Orchestra of Spheres: Nonagonic Now

Orchestra of Spheres should be recognized for its willingness to take chances and experiment with instrument-construction and sound in general. Unfortunately, the band’s ratio of hits to misses on this album is right about 50/50.

Orchestra of Spheres

Nonagonic Now

Label: Fire
US Release Date: 2011-11-08
UK Release Date: 2011-11-07

New Zealand’s Orchestra of Spheres doesn’t seem much interested in traditional songwriting. Nonagonic Now, the group's debut album, is packed with tracks based around rhythm-centric ideas, from driving basslines to afrobeat-style percussion. Sometimes there are lyrics, and sometimes they’re in English, although those lyrics are more likely to be employed in the form of a chant than a melodic hook or a narrative. Adding to the eccentricity, the band mostly plays on homemade instruments, which gives everything the players do a sound that’s just slightly "off"-sounding.

"Hybercube" kicks things off with a driving syncopated beat played in unison by what sounds like snare drum, metal poles, and buzzing fiberglass tubes. Then some non-English group call-and-response chanting enters, joined by a distorted bass or guitar-type sound. All along, the percussion clicks along, sliding back and forth between several different beats. It’s definitely a weird track that quickly establishes that Orchestra of Spheres isn’t going to play music the easy way. Still, the rhythmic force of the percussion holds the song together through all the weirdness and makes for a sort of fascinating listen. The next song, "There is No No", has something resembling a melody -- consisting of the title stretched out vocally and sung several times in a row -- floating over another tricky rhythmic pattern, and even a vaguely catchy riff played on a guitar-like instrument. Still, the beats are the focus of the track much more than the melody, firmly establishing where the band’s priorities lie.

If there’s one thing Orchestra of Spheres cannot be accused of on Nonagonic Now, it’s repeating itself. Each track has its own idea, and some definitely work better than others. On the positive side there is a song like the bluegrass-flavored instrumental "Spontaneous Symmetry", which sounds like a distorted banjo jam created by people who only sort of know what a banjo is supposed sound like. Or "Hypersphere", which has a genuinely danceable groove amongst sitar-like sounds and spacey synth weirdness. "Isness" might be the most traditional-sounding song on the album, with a call-and-response vocal duet over a very catchy beat and an actual guitar-style solo. Then there’s "Boltzmann Brain", with its annoyingly insidious earworm "Brain injury / Brain disease / Brain poisoning" that has the listener singing along instantly. The song also boasts a Gamelan-like percussion interlude which is odd but somehow fits perfectly.

On the other hand, there’s almost as much material here that falls completely flat. "Eternal C of Darkness" is full of laser-beam and theremin-style synth noises and it sounds like something out of a ‘50s sci-fi B-movie, but there’s nothing interesting actually going on during the track. Not coincidentally, it’s the only song on the album that has no percussion at all. Even worse is "Toadstone", which is five minutes-plus of what sounds like completely random noise. It seems highly likely that the players recorded themselves just screwing around on their instruments for five minutes and liked it and decided to put in on the album. There’s no structure or rhythmic ideas or musical theme, it’s literally just noise. The album closer "Ulululul" sounds like what happens when the band lets one of its complicated beats just play out for a long jam. At almost nine minutes long, this is the groove that never ends. A steady drum beat goes on and on while guitars and other instruments improvise on top. The music never goes anywhere, and no real melodic ideas ever show up during the course of the song. It’s tracks like this that make people decide they hate jam bands.

Nonagonic Now is a unique listening experience, and Orchestra of Spheres should be recognized for its willingness to take chances and experiment with instrument-construction and sound in general. This rhythm-based approach to songwriting is very different from hip-hop and electronic music, the two currently oversaturated sources of rhythm-based popular music. When you experiment as much as Orchestra of Spheres, though, there are bound to be some misses. Unfortunately, the band’s ratio of hits to misses on this album is right about 50/50.


Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.