TIME OF ORCHIDS - Sarcast While
John Zorn's Tzadik label is very keen on quality, but let's face it, they don't do much rock. But when they decide to head into distorted guitar territory, you better fasten your seatbelt, because they will make you discover new worlds. First example are Kayo Dot, a band with a black metal background that totally turned avant-garde. Then there is Time Of Orchids, who released last year a much acclaimed four track EP on Epicene Sound Systems. Although back then I decided to give this strange but beautiful gem a full ten point rating, it is now hard to believe that they improved again considerably. Where their last year's third release was more experimental than their two previous self-released albums, they combined the best of both worlds this time, but added compositional maturity and a much broader spectrum of influences.
Sarcast While is everything music can possibly be, giving you four epic pieces, six regular songs and five short breaks. The four members play all kinds of instruments, although the regular guitar, bass, drums and keyboards are this time enough to provide the majority of sounds. Sure, they may have used machine parts, hair dryer and assorted trinkets, but they create their rich sound mostly by regular instrumentation.
The album starts with the short Advent, a necessary intro paving the mood for the following It Gone, a three minute mellowish song that segues over into the equally radio-length Ours, Engendered, but this time we are treated with their most aggressive and wicked sound yet, sounding like a more adventurous WatchTower. It's on this track where we first meet Friendly Bear Tim Byrnes on trumpet and where the keyboards venture into free jazz territory, all laid on the most progressive rhythm work you can imagine. Harness Well-Wishers is the first longer song, but only a foretaste of what's to come with A Man To Hide, with nine minutes the second longest track and introducing guest vocalist Julee Cruise that most of you may remember from the Twin Peaks soundtrack. Her ethereal vocals match the gloomy mood of this song, and as all ToO members but the new drummer also sing, we get an atmosphere of schizophrenia, never knowing what will come next. The repetitive structure in the middle of the song recalls early Eighties P.I.L., before Tim Byrnes plays already his last trumpet part on the album. The middle of the album is a little less strange. High Enthusiast sounds like a colourful early Eighties King Crimson, Depending View is a waif of a song, taking again advantage of Ms. Cruise who's singing on five songs. Swarm Of Hope is a ten minute tour de force which to dissect is up to you, as it is again filled with so many things that talking about would anyway spoil the pleasure of discovery. Let me just add that here we get guest vocals from Stereolab's Maryanne Hansen, featured on three songs here. In the past ToO had already B52's Kate Pierson on vocals, making me really wonder where they find all these talented and cultish singers.
The two last regular songs end the album with as much genius as it all began. Everyone Is Suspended is the closed ToO may ever come to a pop song. All We Ever Wish is a last longer song, more accessible than the previous ones, with a really great vocal part at around six minutes into the song, fading over into the last track, a kind of outro.
Time Of Orchids have proven that with the proper care of a big label and an executive producer called John Zorn, they can reinvent themselves, reinvent music, and although there are parallels to proggy metal, math noise, Eighties King Crimson and post punk, Sarcast While is a rare because truly original album that redefines music. If these guys continue to improve at such a rate, we will have to invent new words to write about their music.