Silent League

Silent League

Silent League

The Orchestra, Sadly, Has Refused

File 13 Records

Right off the bat, The Orchestra, Sadly, Has Refused fills me with grave misgivings. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a strong and impeccably arranged album title track, but it’s a little “too” perfect pop for my tastes. Too rigidly structured and self-conscious. Fans of Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks are gonna love the orchestral swoons, the clear man-child vocals, the brass, that teenage symphony sorta ambition, but I’m turned off by the faint scent of trying too hard. Ditto “Goliath.” Silent League mastermind Justin Russo shoulda been recruited to help recreate Smile, not those hacks in The Wondermints. Next!

It turns out I was being too rash. “The Catbird Seat” is more like it! A fab homage to the impeccably pop baroque tension and paranoia that The Eels used to do so sooo well. That sweetest self-loathing rendered through a web of shuffling drums, piano stabs, all manner of electronic punctuation and a disaffected vocal that breaks into a menacing falsetto. “Time” reminds me of Spiritualized crossed with Bacharach, the chorus is awesomely disembodied and disconnected, seemingly floating off into an ether of melancholy — excellent contrast with the more pop verses. “Breathe,” on the other hand, is annoying High Llamas-lite. Nice falsetto, though. I’m becoming more and more of a falsetto aficionado by the day. I’m beginning to think that it just might be the noblest expression of the male voice. After the death metal growl, of course.

“Motion Pictures” has some fabulous singing saw and downbeat vocals, and the second half sounds like an old victrola recording of an Ivor Novello song. “Glass Walls” sees Russo starting to take active control of the orchestration and shaping it to fit his psyche and muse, rather than the looming specters of past inspiration; he’s better for it, and “Glass Walls” is evocatively fragile to match his quiet vocals — now it’s classic in the right sense of the word, dig the castrati chorus that comes in at the end. The record really comes together on “Conversation.” It’s a wonderful homage to “Sad Song”, Lou Reed’s blackest moment and the climax to the draining Berlin song cycle. Russo and Silent League have studied the vinyl too, he apes Lou’s apathetic/cruel diction and delivery, the same clear, ringing piano, strings — they even get punchy and throw in some “ba ba’s.” We like!

“New Obsession” reminds me of, like, Sparklehorse crossed with early Elton John’s quieter moments (yes there were those, okay? Like “Tiny Dancer,” right?). “Linus” makes me think of the whole band (if there even was one) cutting the song live in one take in this old studio with orange carpeting and wooden walls and the engineers gathering around a microphone to cut those awesome handclaps along with the jumping piano in the bridge, before the honeyed gasps of “We have got to get it together now.” Those were the days. “Hey You Hurray” hits a high of gorgeous melancholy, reaching ever higher for that ever-elusive human contact and happiness, choirboy multi-tracked voices, tiny acoustic guitar, glockenspiel before settling into a lullaby idyll, just in time…….to wave…… goodbye.

File 13 Records: www.file13.com

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