It’s a long time since we’ve had a young British guitar band as inventive, colourful, and good as The Orielles. The trio from Halifax consists of sisters Esmé (21 – vocals/bass) and Sidonie Hand-Halford (18 – drums), and Henry Wade (17 – guitar), who they met at a house party, and bonded with over a love of Sonic Youth, the Pixies, and Quentin Tarantino. The violence and venom of those influences doesn’t flow into The Orielles’ sweet and adventurous music though. Instead, it’s the sunnier side of late ‘80s/early ‘90s alt-rock they seem most indebted to: Teenage Fanclub, the Pastels and Yo La Tengo. Add in Blur and Pulp’s taste for just having fun, Orange Juice and Primal Scream’s tendency to detour into funk, dub, and psychedelia, plus a substantial helping of The Orielles’ personal x-factor, not forgetting generous helpings of auxiliary percussion, and you have a nice, vivacious sound. All in all, their amalgamation seems like a one-band campaign for indie irredentism – to reclaim and reunify the disparate territories that proudly flew the genre’s flag before it became tainted by hyper-commercialism and lad-rock in the mid-2000s, and venture forward into a glorious melodic future. Make indie great again!
They first drew attention with last year’s ‘Sugar Tastes Like Salt’, which could have been a notable and impressive 3-minute single, had it not continued to proceed, for another 5 minutes, through dub-funk diversions, punk guitar solos, tempo changes, evil laughter samples, and an all-round garage-rock freak-out. This digression made the single much more remarkable, evidently the product of band with considerable talent and Napoleonic ambitions. ‘Sugar Tastes Like Salt’ is not on Silver Dollar Moment, but the album is painted using the same alt-art-indie palette – Esmé’s awesome flange-heavy basslines, Sidonie’s tight and funky drum grooves, Henry’s judicious and inventive guitar work, plus that taste for extended codas.
Lead single ‘I Only Bought It For The Bottle’ is impressive for how Esmé turns something entirely inconsequential – buying a drink because the label “looks like a David Hockney”, and regretting it when it doesn’t taste nice – into an anthemic chorus. And in terms of how the instruments work together, it serves as a blueprint for the album: in the verse, an attention-grabbing bassline locks in perfectly with Henry’s abstract guitar work, and Sidonie’s funky groove on drums, with perfectly-placed open hi-hats and snare ruffs. Throughout the album, Henry is happy for his guitar to serve the song – at times he cedes prime melodic interest to Esmé’s bass, and most of the solos are on synth rather than guitar. Yet when some lead is needed, he’s more than capable of stepping out of rhythm-guitar mode, and second single ‘Let Your Dogtooth Grow’ features perhaps his best work – a beautifully melancholy lead riff which is deployed sparingly yet expertly so as to maximise its emotional impact.
The album opener ‘Mango’ is a bit different to the singles – it’s still arty, with cowbell integrated into the drum beat, bongos, and a chewy synth counter-melody, but the American alt-rock influence is much more prominent. In fact, there are a number of songs that ramp up the American slacker style rather than the fiddly indie and disco-leanings of the singles, like the lazy ‘Sunflower Seeds’, and, most excellently, the luscious ‘Henry’s Pocket’. But they’re always leaving their own idiosyncratic, arty mark – ‘Henry’s Pocket’ has a flute solo. The most distant song is the loungey ‘Liminal Spaces’, with its chorus-drenched guitars, wobbly bass and girl-group harmonies, which then descends into the quasi-Flying Lotus instrumental ‘The Sound of Liminal Spaces’. They’re an eclectic band, and the variety on show here recalls The Raincoats’ cult LP ‘Odyshape’, the difference being that their Frankenstinian monster was crafted from the emaciated cadaver of post-punk, whereas this album stitches body parts onto the chubby-cheeked hulk of alt-rock.
Second song ‘Old Stuff New Stuff’ is The Orielles exemplified. There’s a headline-stealing bassline, and a crazed denouement which features primal yelps, bongos, pew-pew synths, lashings of slap bass, and samba whistles. In the main body of the song Esmé seems to be wearily discussing politics, with her chorus “lasting decisions, unfettered ideals, strange visions – why do they have to be real?” If that sounds like a reference to Brexit, then the title of ’48 Percent’ should put any doubts about that to rest. There, she seems to doubt the Brexiteers’ promise of a new dawn: “I see the sun in the sky and hurts my eyes”. That said, the song’s chorus is joyous, with a kaleidoscope of “bah bah bah” harmonies. The Brexit theme seems to reoccur on ‘Henry’s Pocket’ too, with the chorus “Caught into a trap, Ain’t no goin’ back”. Perhaps I’m projecting.
Sometimes, like on the excellent closer ‘Blue Suitcase (Disco Wrist)’, I fall for Esmé’s desire to write “a few songs that make people think ‘What the hell is that about?’”. Elsewhere, Esmé is feeling tired a lot – either from staying up too late (‘Mango’), chilling out under a tree (‘Borrachero Tree’), or the boredom of “quotidian days” (‘Let Your Dogtooth Grow’). She’s a real slacker – idle and “lyin’ around like its all gonna just happen to me” on ‘Liminal Spaces’, and you get the impression that this is because the world is becoming less and less worth making the effort for. There are repeated regretful references to change and Esmé’s solution is to focus on what is interesting and fun about her personal, local chunk of the world. From the optimistic sound of the album that would appear to be a good strategy. But because she’s focussing in on the little details, the personal things – poor drink decisions, thrift shops, talking all night, Yorgos Lanthimos films –, it can seem inconsequential to the listener, like she’s not singing about much at all. Ultimately I was won over, but the pay-off from a lot of these tracks is not instant.
Of course The Orielles aren’t really slackers. They’re highly talented musicians who’ve worked hard to do something very few young British bands have done this decade – write a good, original guitar album. Their sound is fun, energetic, authentic and varied, their riffs are strong and memorable, and their lyrics are intriguing and subtle. You can boogie to it, but there’s an edge as well. They’re also adventurous – these songs are well structured, but incorporate unexpected digressions into strange territory, eccentric samples, and instruments that, according to orthodoxy, have no rightful place in British indie songs. Credit is due to Marta Salongi for the excellent production work, making these disparate styles and sounds cohere beautifully. Silver Dollar Moment show us what indie should be in 2018, by simultaneously re-energising the animus of old ideas, and introducing some great new ones too.