Time Of Orchids
Namesake Caution


Once upon a time, reading a group's/an artist's name that one had never seen in print before (provided it was not their very first work) was always a source of great amusement: how on earth had one missed them? I'd say that today the opposite is true, though the number of potential sources of information has grown exponentially. (My mind panics at the thought of the multitude of separate niches that will proliferate in isolation as soon as all commercial physical support will vanish; and what about our criteria of critical judgment, will they became as separated and as incommensurable as those niches will be?)

So I wasn't really surprised when I found a CD by (what to me was) "an unknown group" in my mailbox. The CD booklet wasn't of much help either: "Produced, mixed and mastered by Colin Marston and Time Of Orchids" was all it said. No names of those playing, no list of instrumentation. A Web search would do, but inside the envelope there was a press release somebody had kindly sent me with the CD.

Namesake Caution is the group's fifth album, coming after Sarcast While, released in 2005 by John Zorn's Tzadik: so - the label in question being highly prestigious and widely trusted - we can safely assume the musicians involved to be held in high esteem, if not quite well-known, and experienced. Their names: Chuck Stern on keyboards, vocals and guitar; Eric Fitzgerald on guitar and vocals; Jess Krakow on bass; David Bodie on drums. The bass player is the only member of the group whose work I know a little bit, Krakow having played quite well on Pork Chop Blue Around The Rind, the homage to Captain Beefheart that Fast 'n' Bulbous - the group led by Gary Lucas and Phillip Johnston - released about three years ago. But all those involved here have curricula which tell of a long and versatile practice on their instruments.

What is immediately apparent upon reading the press release is that in the course of their career the group have often changed their line-up and style; which after all is not too difficult to imagine when reading a partial (!) list of their influences and similarities: John Barry/Ennio Morricone, Mr. Bungle, Nirvana, Thinking Plague, The Magic Band, Yes, Oliver Messiaen, Swans, Radiohead, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum. Wow! Let's listen to the CD.

The chapter called "influences & similarities" is always a hard one, and especially so today that the vast amount of available recorded music makes it possible for one to be influenced by the Beatles while at the same time having never heard them. The same goes for King Crimson, and for all those groups, both big and obscure, which have cast an influence on those who came before us.

The way Colin Marston and the group have organized the sound is quite interesting: "fat" drums in the back, rich with the sound of the room, wide in the stereo spectrum, while clean arpeggio guitars (a "ping" that to me sounds quite Fender-related) are placed in the foreground; sometimes harsher-sounding guitars appear. The whole sounds as being closely related to quite a few (so-called) post-rock albums of the more "rock" variety - in fact, the opium-scented atmosphere of In Color Captivating, the brief instrumental track which opens the album, and the following, vocal, track, Windswept Spectacle, point towards that. But as the CD goes on, a clear shading of what we could call "modern metal" - the one that, right or wrong, is considered as being closely related to modern-day King Crimson - emerges; not too surprisingly, on Meant (Hush-Hush), this explodes in a "Fear in Space" howl that a recent concert experience tells me to be quite typical of the group Sleepytime Gorilla Museum.

I haven't really mentioned the vocals: there are lots of them, layered, deep in dialog, they sound as natural in their "prog" chorus mode as in climates we could easily call "pop"; here, after the album's "post-rock" opening, Darling Abandon could be... well, if not a contender for Top 40 or a presence on FM radio, at least a mini-hit on iTunes.

What I found really peculiar was hearing quite a few Keneally-related (!) moments, where vocal traits of the melodic and soft kind went hand-in-hand with intricate guitar arpeggios; this is true of Parade Of Seasons, but it was at 39" of the next tune, The Only Thing - after an instrumental melody that I almost expected to hear as interpreted by The Very Wonderful Northettes - that the vocal attack, pronunciation and phrasing included, made me look for a non-existent "special thanks" list.

Having talked about the "list of ingredients" (ha! some synthetic-sounding keyboards also appear), here comes the moment of the final judgment. Which ain't really easy. It goes without saying that the album comes thanks to an involved studio process: I really believe that, when listened to on a tiny stage, in a tiny club, with no vocals/guitars overdubbing, with all those things that can go wrong in such cases, the group won't sound that different from your average indie-rock/post-rock group w/guitars  with a propensity to go "modern metal". Which, it could be argued, is not necessarily a bad thing. And, by the way, it was the album we were talking about, right? Here things really get complicated: sure, the group is good, but while listening to the CD I often found myself "listening" to the group's sources, not to what the group was really playing. The logical consequence here being that the less one knows, the more one will like Namesake Caution. Anyway, in the background I always perceive something really insipid, what once was called "lack of personality".

Beppe Colli

Beppe Colli 2008

CloudsandClocks.net | Jan. 21, 2008