I am a Taurus and a creature of habit through and through, and the moment the weather changes in the slightest, I am like Huck Finn, ready to put on my Man… Or Astro-Man? Records so I can rock the fuck out in the yard with a few beers and some friends. What can I say? Old habits die hard, and I’m such a sucker for loud Cheap Trick and grilled asparagus that it doesn’t take much for me to try and start arranging for a party on those days when work seems like bullshit anyway, and you know you aren’t gonna get anything useful done today because of the lateness of the rock show you saw last night. So why not? Is Justin doing anything later? Let’s get the whole posse together. I’ve got enough change for another 12 Pack.
But in much the same way that the winter weather is clinging onto this Spring desperately, like some lush at last call, I can’t seem to give up listening to A Shallow Birth on repeat, like someone who has graduated from the kiddie goth stuff of his youth and is onto the harder stuff. There is something absolutely potent about the pris-fuckin’-tine production and the abstract moments that skirt the edges of this record, that tug at my heartstrings every single time I put it on. “I don’t know if I can do this on my own,” just feels like the sentiment of the last year, and while I know I harp on this in some tangential way in nearly all my reviews lately, Orchards seems to understand the loneliness we are all feeling, as if we are stuck in the Winter of our political lives, trying to find someone else out there who at least gets why we want to relive the shoegaze heroics of our earlier years and just drown ourselves in something loud and beautiful.
While there are moments when Daniel’s guitar cuts through the mix like a sudden emotional outburst, so fuckin’ what? I’m feeling emotional too, and it is never out of place, and sears my ears with the right kind of hugeness (most likely an element of – again – the amazing sounds that are at work on this record). Stan and the string section (Elizabeth and Jacob) certainly evoke elements of the incredible duality that The Rentals captured in the ‘90’s, pitting organic and electronic sounds against each other to get at the duality in the soundscapes Orchards are creating. There is a struggle between modernity and nostalgia at work in this record, again present in the production, which evokes analogue 4AD records as much as it does the digital precision you can get with modern gear. Certainly, part of this audio drama are Aaron and Daniel’s lyrics, sung at a remove, describing the emotional density of emptiness, or a massive lacking in all of our lives, the emptiness that we can only fill with reverb and soaring songs that envelop us like electric blankets.
There are days when I wake up with a start at 3 AM. I just can’t sleep anymore, and as I look outside in the darkness, trying to determine what I could possible do that wouldn’t wake up my wife or disturb the stillness at work in the quiet world around me, I get the progression from “At Night” running through my head, attaching significance to the cats that are playing in the yard, the trees waving in the light breeze, the fuzz of the blanket rubbing against the back of my neck as I tighten it around my shoulders. There is a hugeness to that song that is absolutely appropriate for filling the void and quiet of the night, where you can temporarily find some sort of solace to these worries and inadequacies that fill me most of the time. I rest easier knowing that I can put on Orchards later in the day, that when everyone else is at their jobs, I can indulge myself, I can turn it up as loud as it can go, and for a little while blot out the total and utter garbage that haunts my every other waking moment when I think about the last winter we all went through.
Sure, summer’s just around the corner. But personally, I’m still stuck at “Black Lake,” waiting for “The End” to start over… again and again.