Orchestraville were one of the premiere bands as I came of age in the dingy clubs of the early ’90s Athens music scene. They stood out from crowd by infusing their music with quirky angularity and a much poppier feel than their contemporaries. I had, at a young age, developed an affinity for XTC, and damned if these guys didn’t nail the sound. It also didn’t hurt that Dave Pascoe was a complete badass on what was, up to that point, the only fretless bass I had ever seen. I was hooked. Two albums, a 7-inch and a few comp tracks later, however, that was that. The band fell into that hazy, excess-soaked gray matter not often called upon, dubbed “the ’90s.”
It was quite a shock this past fall, then, to hear tell of a new record. I usually greet these types of reunions with a fair amount of trepidation. Putting an album out after so many years usually goes the way of having a release show in the lobby of a Holiday Inn or, at best, being a pale imitation of the reasons you loved the band in the first place. Orchestraville did neither of these things. Instead, they decided to put out a 12 track collection of amazing pop songs. Pop in the long, almost-forgotten sense of a band playing intelligent, well written songs with great production that unfold over repeated listening. Pop in the sense of attention to detail. Pop with the sense of, well, not sucking.
Gone are the acute angularities and innate quirkiness of their earlier releases/incarnations. Instead, Chris Forbes, Keith Hanlon, Dave Pascoe and new-to-me Parker Paul have crafted a stellar set of thoughtful rock songs that, considering the influences, sound like Orchestraville. Sure, there are some distinctly British-feeling moments to some of these songs (particularly “Only A Song” and “You Wanna Be Like That”), but these are minor quibbles that tell me you’d rather reference things than listen to music. There is an amazingly attentive eye on all of the arrangements, with layer upon layer of subtle instrumentation always benefiting the song. “Phil Och’s Flag,” “The Bird Without Wings,” “Poison Berries,” and my personal favorite “I Could Stay Here All Night Long” nail the art of pop rock, marrying catchy rhythms and smart lyrics to toe-tapping perfection. I won’t lie—not all of these songs are winners for me. Seriously, though, if the only thing wrong with a record is that I want to skip “I Take It Back” every once in a while…
Poison Berries is a fantastic collection of songs, by people that still give a shit about writing real songs. I highly suggest you go to orchestraville.net and start figuring out how you’re going to get a copy. Oh, if you were wondering—yes, Pascoe is still a badass.