I’ll be honest: when I sat down today to review Orphans’ the consequence of following, I wasn’t especially looking forward to it. Not because I didn’t think it’d be a good record; I’d already heard a couple of tracks and been impressed, plus the band consists three of excellent local musicians (trumpeter Dan O’Connor, guitarist Dom Barrett and drummer Behn Green, of Tangled Thoughts of Leaving). But I simply wasn’t in the mood for weird, atonal or noise-oriented music, and it seemed a shame to waste my first listen-through in the wrong headspace. I just wanted to listen to The Supremes, or something. But I did enjoy the consequence of following - a lot - which I think is a testament to the album’s unique appeal. Yes, it’s weird, it delves into noise and atonality, but it’s not overly cerebral or alien music. It meets you on an intuitive and sensual level, which makes sense when you consider it’s comprised of excerpts from a day of group improvisations.
1. Straight away, the title tracks blinks to life with primordial trumpet bursts, drum rustling and eerie high-end sci-fi timbres. These timbres fold into each other, becoming a kind of liquid haze, as the trumpet grows more confident and jazzy, cymbals start speaking, and the guitar begins to see-saw between chorus laden octave tones. Each instrument grows increasingly busy and the trio swells to a dense cacophony with elements of black metal blastbeats and spooky dissonance.
2. ‘infiltrating the cave’ opens with a tight 7th interval between guitar and trumpet, resolving to a major chord when a rounded bass frequency floats in. It’s an astoundingly beautiful, albeit simple moment. The next few minutes follow a similar thread, with guitar pings and trumpet responses, underscored by moving low-end pitches that I presume must be drum skins resonating via slow friction. The piece quietly mutates into something surprisingly pretty, jazzy guitar picking guiding brass melodies through a melancholic rainy-day jam.
3. ‘excusing yourself from the séance,’ is more than just an awesome title: it’s a distinctive track that begins as fleeting, painterly gestures before solidifying into a minimal, syncopated noise-rock groove. Recalling the likes of Shellac, My Disco and Swans, but with the thrillingly offbeat addition of trumpet, it’s easy to like and difficult to forget. Just don’t try dancing to it or you’ll probably twist your ankle.
4. ‘again, the panicked pace of reality’ blends fizzing cymbals and bell percussion with sparrow-like guitar noodling and frenetic trumpet utterances. Then, some silky backwards guitar that might be at home in a post-rock epic, but sounds much more interesting laid bare. The track’s a brief, transient and abstract centrepiece, letting you bounce freely in zero gravity before you hit the ground -
5. in ‘confusing motion with momentum.’ Initially this sounds like a dumb moody rock song I would have written in high school, but then O’Connor’s trumpet comes in to happily confuse things, and the ride cymbal gets a little sultry, adding some smouldering flair. The track still doesn’t really go anywhere though - it doesn’t have much motion or momentum - and unfortunately sticks out as fat that could’ve been trimmed.
6. ‘when departing the wheel’ revolves around unpredictable drum phrases, with soft-edged toms, open snare and the occasional cymbal forming idiosyncratic musical arcs. There’s not much else in the mix except for some trumpet breath noise that threatens to become a note. Minimal, enigmatic, and rendered very cool by its deft delivery.
7. lucky seven is ‘hobbling toward the horizon,’ which starts out by recalling Morricone spaghetti western moods: sparse, clean guitar motifs drifting over a dusty scorched landscape. Loungey latin chords enter the vista, as well as stuttering snare, slinky descending guide tones, and languid trumpet additions. Of all the record’s tunes this is probably its most traditionally beautiful, and could maybe read as a John Zorn-esque wink, whereby entire genres or moods are equalised against noises; a slow desert lament being no different from a drum whack or valve click, available to be dropped into the audio field at a moment’s notice.
Which is not to say that there’s anything facetious or ironic about Orphans’ approach. On the contrary, this seems to be all about openness, an openness to the formal interplay and culturally-informed affect of sounds, whatever category they might fall into (if any). It’s not laboratory science - there’s plenty of emotion in these improvisations, be it fury, sorrow or wonder. But through their insistence on an exploratory approach, Orphans refuse to settle on a consistent musical mood or narrative. This, along with their instrumental prowess and sensitivity, is what will make the group stand out from the crowd - they do not presuppose their sound, so as to become self-caricatures, but rather follow wherever the sounds may lead. And now I get the title.
It’s interesting to note that Perth has produced another band called ‘Orphans.’ The former ‘Orphans’ were part of Perth’s first wave punk movement, haunting Hernando’s Hideaway with the likes of The Victims, The Geeks and Cheap Nasties. The Orphans’ music was cool, certainly on par with a lot of other late ’70s grubbiness, but it’d be boring if you did it now. Maybe the shared name is fitting; maybe these new Orphans represent the new punk, free and unsolicited music that breaks the rules, though it wears a very different guise. Or maybe I’m overthinking it.