Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the last few years, you probably know by now that Orchid Tapes don’t really release bad records. What they do release follows a basic pattern and by now they have cultivated an aesthetic unlike any other contemporary DIY label. Brown Horse, the new split album from Spencer Radcliffe and R.L. Kelly, is the archetypal Orchid Tapes release, and I mean that in the best way possible.
Radcliffe gets the A-side of the album, opening with the rather ominous line of, “Oh my God I’ve really done it this time” which rather nicely sets the tone (read: young, confused and lonely). It both sounds and feels like the outpouring of someone who has locked themselves in their room (and that isn’t a criticism). It’s raw and pure and honest, full of sincere yearning and wry self-deprecation.
But this isn’t simply the sound of some young guy moping over his acoustic guitar. Radcliffe’s music is nothing if not unpredictable, jam-packed with idiosyncratic elements; xylophone and flute recorder and periods of near-silence, schoolyard chant backing vocals, intimate wordless murmurs and weird unintelligble vocal recordings like answerphone confessions from another dimension. All this is wrapped up in a warm and cozy fuzz, giving the sense that not only are you sitting in Radcliffe’s bedroom with him, but you are sat on his bed wrapped up in a duvet.
The third track, ‘My Song’, is a little different, with an almost hip-hop spoken word delivery which brings to mind Why?. It also possesses Yoni Wolf’s millennial deadpan irony with lines like, “On the phone asking room service where the party’s at.”
‘Brown Horse’, the final of Radcliffe’s tracks, is probably the most upbeat. The lyrics are like a postmodern poetic summary of Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses:
“I wanna ride a brown horse somewhere where a horse hasn’t ridden it’s course before
Other horses running around taking in the air feeling hooves on the wet ground
Waiting for the sun to go down
All the horses run towards the big field in the sky”
R.L. Kelly’s side is perhaps more accessible, refreshingly simple after Radcliffe’s experimentation. The highlight is Rachel Levy’s characteristic sweet and bright vocal work. It’s intimate and introspective but not overly morose. In fact there are some pretty positive messages peppered throughout, not least on ‘Wake Up’, which is the sonic equivalent of spelling out ‘KEEP GOING’ in multi-coloured magnetic alphabet letters on the door of your fridge:
“They want to hurt you because they’re hurting too
Don’t let them inside your head they’ll take control”
The final track offers another comforting philosophy, a little pick-me-up for your soul, a reminder that your really little and insignificant and this is far from being a bad thing because it means that all your worries and fears are even smaller and things will carry on as normal and you can too. Or, as Levy puts it in a repeated pseudo-chorus:
“And the great big great big world keeps spinning”
So if you like your music DIY and lo-fi and you find comfort in solidarity with people you’ll never meet, Brown Horse is the album for you.
The cassette release has sold out, but you can still download the album on a name-your-price basis via the Orchid Tapes Bandcamp page.