[21 May 2008]
The first studio effort from Orphans and Vandals finds this young London-based outfit in top form. A-Side “Terra Firma” is pure, sprawling urban cinema. Violins whine and shriek as frontman Al Joshua stammers away, conjuring images that evoke raving clairvoyants and caterwauling gutter shamans. Over bassist Raven and drummer Gabi Woo’s pounding rhythmic accompaniment, he seems to dredge up wild hallucinations. Trembling, beleaguered he gasps, “And an old woman stops me in the street / And her body’s homeless and dying and when she touches me it’s such a treat. / She takes my hand in her two hands and says the Earth is flat. / How’d you know that? How’d you know that?” Lyrics are a strong point, as is Joshua’s delivery.
On B-Side “Christopher”, he again demonstrates his keen ability as a storyteller. As he spins a tale of big city disenchantment, the rest of the band contributes a perfectly woozy musical accompaniment, which includes harmonium, violin, and musical saw (courtesy of members Woo, Franchesca, and Quinta, respectively). All in all, this is romantic music—street music, played with that certain deceptive nonchalance that evokes the early days of the Velvet Underground. True to their name, Orphans and Vandals take up the horn for the disaffected. That said, this is also uplifting music. As “Terra Firma” winds to a close amid ghostly chants, Joshua startles back to lucidity. You can almost see the wild-eyed stare. “You should be glad,” he says. “This is a new beginning for you.”