These guys figured out that pinning down a sound doesn't always matter as long as you do something compelling with each song. And they surely do that on their new album.
It's been four years since the Oranges Band put out their last album, The World and Everything In It. And back in 2005, they were a mid-level -- but excellent -- member of the Lookout Records roster, had put out two full-lengths, and seemed poised to launch into greater audiences. But then Lookout Records folded and the Baltimore group fell totally under the radar. And now, after an eerily quiet four years, the band is back with a brand new album.
Of course, the time they've taken and what it's done for their presence in the music world isn't lost on the band, as you can tell with the title ...Are Invisible. There is certainly a feel, in both the title and the music, that the band knows they're starting over in a lot of ways. Because not only were they on the cusp of something bigger in 2005, they were also expanding sonically as a band. The sharp power-pop of All Around expanded into the sun-hazed bliss of The World and Everything In It. So how, four years later, does a band keep that sort of trajectory going?
Well, by blowing it all up apparently. ...Are Invisible is very much the sound of a band searching. But not frantically, or without reason. The Oranges Band, somewhere along the line, figured that pinning down a sound didn't matter. All that matters is that, from song to song, you do something compelling. And they surely do that on their new album.
It's not that the album is a huge departure for the band. Opener "Ottobar After Hours" is very much an Oranges Band song, with chugging guitars and sweet hooks and the slight rasp of honeyed vocals. "Do You Remember Memory Lane?" is another of their patented sunny rock tracks, and is as catchy and fiery as any track they've recorded.
But while those songs show the band has kept their form, other tracks show them stretching out in subtle and inventive ways. From the grimy fuzz-pop of "I Wouldn't Worry About It" -- where singer Roman Kuebler snarls the line "I wouldn't worry about it, cause not everyone's listening" -- to the Clash-like shuffle thump of "Gordon's Nightclub" and the brilliant and joyful funk-pop of "When Your Mask is Your Revealing Feature", the band is trying out new sounds and textures on every song. The addition of guitarist Doug Gillard, once a force in Guided by Voices, certainly helps the band's sound stretch out. He gives them some low end tone and, along with a mix that favors the rhythm section, ...Are Invisible has a heft and depth to it that it's predecessors did not have.
The most surprising departure is the seven-plus minute "Absolutely Instru(Mental)", which is exactly what it sounds like, a big instrumental track. On an album of only nine tracks and not quite 35 minutes, a long instrumental is a big risk to stick between some hook-heavy rock songs. But the gamble pays off, as the band proves they can make just about any sound they want, from surf-pop to cinematic post-rock to noodling noise experiments and brooding indie rock. It's a big hunk of music, and not one absorbed as easily as the rest of the album, but it not only preps you for the murky closer "Toulouse-Lautrec", it also shows all that the band has found over four years.
It's a bit unfair to stick an album with four years of history, to see it as a culmination or explanation for a time we as listeners weren't a part of. But in some ways that is what makes ...Are Invisible so wonderful. Not because it explains the time it took to make, or makes up for it, or anything like that. Aside from giving us nine infectious and beautiful songs, this album sounds like a band that has shed the business of being a band, and got back to the discovery that comes along with making music.
Though for fans in their local Baltimore, ...Are Invisible might sound like a guided pub crawl through the city, to the rest of us it might seem like an album that is all over the place, one that has no center to build around, and runs too short to have some grandiose story arc. But its wandering nature is not a liability, it is a charming strength. And no matter how long it's been since we're heard from them -- and maybe four years only seems long now that we live in the ubiquity of Twitter -- the Oranges Band aren't picking up where they left off. Instead, they're back with their best record yet. Emphasis on yet.