Monday 30 June 2014

Penny Orchids - Worse Things

Album review by KevW

The music that Penny Orchids make is all over the shop. Thankfully, that shop is a record shop, and is one that's filled with winding, dusty shelves laden with rare gems that have been acquired from many eras and many areas of the world. From Nick Cave murder ballads to Morricone soundtracks to traditional waltzes, folk tales, baroque recordings that have rarely seen the light of day and verbose storytelling from days gone by. It's a dusky, musky, dark shop tucked away in a back street where barely a person sets foot. It's a treasure trove of interesting ideas, sights, sounds and styles and it's been devoured by the London collective and transformed into an album that's captivating and mysterious in equal measure. 'Worse Things', as the title may suggest, has an occasional nautical theme (as the saying goes, "worse things happen at sea") and lyrically could feasibly be released as a written collection of poetic short stories.

Split into two halves of five songs each, the first side is dedicated to outlaws, down-and-outs and characters that could be described as either unsavoury or unlucky, but probably both. We set sail straight away with 'One More Drink', a rampant and jaunty baroque-jazz-electric-folk concoction (with Western leanings) that tells of treacherous seas and murderous sailors committing mutiny. Transmitted straight in from one of the aforementioned Westerns is the orchestral 'Your Vacant Eyes', and here the subject of the story has "evil in his eyes" and possibly a lot more evil on his tortured mind. 'Eliza Battle' is a pensive and melancholy waltz that laments the loss of a ship on its maiden voyage with a chorus of voices lifting this almost Celtic sounding folk song higher until it becomes quite stately. As if it was just a casual, everyday event, the baroque folk-rock of 'Trinidad' begins by stating "I commandeered a ship today, sometimes life works out that way", although the journey to the Caribbean with its steel drums doesn't sound as though it was particularly successful, as the character tells of being put in a wooden box and then placed on a funeral pyre. But suddenly the music takes a turn for the exotic and we're transported to those sunny shores under better conditions. Lastly, 'The New World' is a short, solemn, almost church-like instrumental that brings the first section to a close.

There's a noted step up in tempo as the plodding shanty 'Maloney Does New York' begins the story of an Irishman "leaving the old country behind" to make his fortune. The saxophone is very prevalent and brings a smokey atmosphere to the adventure as Maloney joins up with the Jewish mafia. Perhaps unsurprisingly, 'Maloney Has A Change Of Heart', realising that he may have gotten himself in a sticky situation, all to another stomping melee of instrumentation. Maybe Cork was a safer option after all, so he packs up and runs, leaving his mistress behind him. It appears that Atlantic City is to be his next destination, as the story is interrupted by a brief radio transmission. 'Radio Advert For Atlantic City' promises it's a place where dreams come true, and so he takes his family there with barely penny to his name. No life story of this kind would be complete without gambling being involved, and so he places all he has on a bet. 'Maloney Is Riding High Again' sees our hero (?) shacked up with another mistress and children who will inherit the money he made by reading the cards. It's a lively, baritone hybrid of music from so many of the shop's shelves, as Maloney grows old and fat on his wealth. 'Shell Beach' concludes the adventure and this time it's a female vocal that takes the lead, suddenly lessening the intensity that's been ever present. A pretty piano number, this is maybe 'Worse Things'' most accessible and conventional song, then it fades away before returning with the sound of waves lapping against the shore. Penny Orchids have let their imaginations run wild with this album, and you could easily get lost in all the musical nooks and crannies they have to offer.

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