Iseem to be in a bit of a quandary here. You see, I’ve been playing this “Mini LP” of Orbiter’s all week, and I just can’t make up my mind about it. On one hand, the music’s really, really good, the grooves are tight, and the production is top notch. On the other hand, I can’t help but feel that the vocal department could use a little tweaking. But Orbiter has nothing to worry about. According to their home website (www.lovelessrecords.com), Mini LP completely sold out all copies in January of this year. Obviously, these guys have a real fan base.
And they should. As I said, the disc is really impressive. Consisting of ex-Hammerbox maestro Harris Thurmond and Goodness’ Fiia McGann, Orbiter lays down mellow electro-pop that owes as much to Lou Reed as it does to Portishead and Everything But The Girl, to which the band has been likened in other press clippings. So what’s my beef with the group? We’re getting there, kiddies. Just be patient.
First of all, since this “Mini LP” is basically an EP, it tends to fall into the same rut that many other EP’s of the past have landed in. That being, there is inevitably one or two tracks that could have easily been left off instead of being used to pad out the disc. In this case, the honor goes to the opening and closing cuts “3 A.M.” and “3 A.M. (reprise)”. Basically the same track faded out and then back in, “3 A.M.” is a short instrumental that builds upon the same simple melody for a couple of minutes, layering on instruments here and there, but ultimately reaching no satisfying conclusion. Besides, this track isn’t really representative of what Orbiter has to offer as a whole.
No, that representation lies within the rest of the tracks. The vocal duties are split between McGann and Thurmond, and here is where my other complaint rests. McGann is better as a background singer and not as a lead vocalist for this group. She reminds me way too much of Gwen Stefani (indeed, this same sentiment has been brought up in another review for the album). The way she pushes out the lyrics in a halfway seductive grunt doesn’t do anything for me. But here’s the problem. McGann handles the choruses of all the songs she sings lead on (“Stray”, “Sentimental”, and “Bribery”) really well. It’s as if she all of a sudden finds her own voice during each of these songs. Unfortunately, she falls back into Stefani territory as soon as the choruses have faded time and time again. I played this album for one of my friends, and he thought that McGann sounded like Shirley Manson, but Manson has the sexy vamp thing down cold. Fiia should leave hers in the closet.
Now for Harris Thurmond. Thurmond is what really makes this disc work for me. He is a talented performer, and I really like the way he handles his vocals. He comes off as someone on the nod, letting the words ooze out of his mouth into a nice puddle all over the songs. I love the lines in “You” in which he decrees that he wishes he could sing “like Curtis Mayfield does”. Thurmond doesn’t need to wish this at all. His vocals are sultry and to the point. His guitar playing is just like Lou Reed’s: simple rhythms and nice, catchy chords that repeat ad infinitum. My one minor complaint is that his solo in “Paper” doesn’t quite fit.
As I said, Oribter is doing well for themselves and their public enjoys what they’re hearing. I just wish McGann could lighten up on the Betty Boop aspects of her voice and just sing an entire song the way she sings her choruses. Perhaps this is just the way she does it, I don’t know. I do think that Harris Thurmond will have a great future in the business no matter who he’s collaborating with. I’d like to hear more of Orbiter and see where they take their sound in the future. For now, I can only look upon Mini LP as a really strong single with some interesting ephemera along the edges.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/orbiter-mini/