Dislocated from both Athens and Denver and isolated in the chilly Northeast, Echo Orbiter’s tangential relationship with the Elephant 6 Collective has not suffered from the oft failed long-distance relationship. Throughout their 13+ year career the brothers Emerle’s Guided By Voices-inspired penchant for swirling melodies and homemade psychedelia have always seemed like a shoe-in for the Elephant 6 Collective’s robust roster of psych-folk oddballs. While this welcome into the tentacled art collective never happened, the distance from their obvious mentors allowed Emerle brothers to grow together, apart. If only all relationships worked that well.
Orphan Kids Withdraw From This Comedy comes to us at what would seem like the tail-end of a band who has pumped out 39 releases, spanning full albums, EPs, singles and compilations. 1996-2009, that’s like going from cassette, to cd, to mp3 in one bands lifetime. What makes this release even more impressive is that Echo Orbiter show no signs of slowing down. The band owes much of their sound to one of rock’s greatest unsung heroes, the Cars Ric Ocasek. Sounding like a polished Do The Collapse-era Guided By Voices under their Ocasek tutelage, The Emerle brothers combine uber-catchy British Invasion style, four-on-the-floor garage burners with heavy new wave influenced synth lines, early Flaming Lips psychedelia, prog-rock time changes all wrapped up in the lovable weirdo excesses of an Elephant 6 release.
Owing to those three distinct influences: GBV, Ric Ocasek, and Elephant 6, it would be easy to discuss this album in a sort of bifurcated nature of songs being split between those guiding hands. However, Echo Orbiter is frequently adept at blending these three together, never totally revealing their hand. “The Idea of Laissez Faire” comes in almost mid-note during a crunchy power-chord as a synthesizer run laps around the major chord progression before Justin Emerle’s nasally, faux-British vocals come crashing in. Lyrically, I have no clue what is going on here, aside from appropriating Robert Pollard’s singing style he has also inherited his knack for making no sense whatsoever. Cryptic word-rummaging comes in the form of “Experimental interstate glory speed/mystery bionic flying machine, come clean”. I mean non-sequiturs are hallmarks of indie rock songwriting, but to pile that many in a sentence is truly impressive. “Non Smoking Bingo Progressive” starts with an intro that is eerily reminiscent of The Flaming Lips “Waitin’ For Superman” , before heavily distorted synths and Who-like windmilling guitars give way to a scorching solo preventing any chance of meditative reflection. In an album so crammed with twisting and turning melodies Orphan Kids hardly takes a step to rest or breathe. Each virtuoso display of point-counterpoint songwriting is pushed to the absolute front of the mix, making reflection and digestion a daunting task.
As the album progresses Ocasek’s hand presses more and more heavily down on the shoulders of the Emerle brothers. Songs like “Winners Circle” rely so heavily on the reassuring buzz of the synthesizer and post-punk angular guitar work that I swore I was transported back to 1984. In fact, owing to the predominance of the cowbell on 8 of the album's 12 songs, perhaps their mentor on this album wasn’t Ric Ocasek, maybe it was Christopher Walken’s SNL character Bruce Dickinson. Perhaps the reason why Orphan Kids speeds along with the pace that it does is because the album cannot support another song like “Hungry For Fame”. The track opens with an uncanny new-age-meets-ELO swirling synth-scape before cantering on at a martial pace. The earnestness that Emerle tries to force behind his voice on the chorus wasn’t enough to stay my itchy trigger finger on the skip button. Luckily, the Emerle brothers know where their strengths lie and cash in on the frenetic pace of their diversely influenced album.
I think it would be cool to be in a band for as long as the Emerle brothers have been. To be able to witness the changing trends and tastes of indie rock, being free to sample from each before witnessing the eventual decline of genres altogether. Echo Orbiter has made a career of this, starting with a very distinct categorization due to their relationship with Elephant 6 and later embracing Philadelphia’s wild experimental side. The Emerle’s have picked up what has worked, dropped what hasn’t, and have not been afraid to stick closely to their guns. With an album fiercely looking towards the future while relying on tried and true practices, it will be interesting to see where another 10 years puts Echo Orbiter.
1. The Idea of Laissez-Faire (2:53)
2. Non-Smoking Bingo Progressive (3:30)
3. Who Does That Remind You Of? (2:20)
4. Laws of Nonsense (2:44)
5. Crown Jewel (3:14)
6. Back On the Map (3:01)
7. Time Slides Faster Away (3:28)
8. Winner's Circle (2:22)
9. Court Order (3:09)
10. Hungry For Fame (4:41)