I can't actually figure out how many times I have already listened to the Orations debut album. I could say that it was about a dozen times, but that would be far from accurate taking into account that I have been obsessively stuck with their album in my eardrums for the past couple of months. I got totally immersed into it and listened to Wych Elm innumerable times to be fairly honest.
One of the things that caught me by surprise was the fact that spin after spin I continued to feel the same sheer joy and enthusiasm of the first listen. Wych Elm resonates to hallowed wonderful times and it sticks to the bones with unusual viscerality. Released digitally through Swiss Dark Nights back in November 2016, Wych Elm can also be fully appreciated on the vinyl edition available via Custom Made Music label known for its absolutely exquisite catalogue. INDIEVOTION had no other option but to deservedly consider Wych Elm as one of the best 30 post punk/dark ambient/noise albums of last year.
Orations debut album stands out as one of the more aesthetically coherent, concise, cohesive and meaningful post punk albums of the last decade. I would dare say that it is absolutely flawless and it comes highlighted with the extraordinary presence of all the elements that serve to identify the Post-Punk ambience. Wych Elm makes an indelible contribution to the never ending pleasure it gives to the listener, particularly the post punk, the possibility to draw a myriad of connections to outstanding sonorities hailing from the golden years of UK Post-Punk.
Not unsurprisingly we can all currently see a renewed wave of Post-Punk musicians and bands happening. If there is a post punk state of mind it undeniably did manage to extend its influence or invisible hand onto the 21st century against all predictions imbued with a bold, innovative, experimental, thrilling strength. One of the most rewarding aspects of Wych Elm resides upon the fact that the band not only does not reproduce - as if it were the case of a mere sonic mimesis experimentation - those influences that most commonly made Post-Punk widely known, but it also brings to light the sonic trademark of less acknowledged bands of the late 70's and early 80's which were of seminal importance to the famed construction of a Post-Punk reality.
It was particularly refreshing to spot on Wych Elm much more than just the influences of the usual suspects such as The Cure; Echo & the Bunnymen; The Sound; Joy Division; New Order; Siouxsie & The Banshees or even The Chameleons. It was undoubtedly marvelous to discover that underlying the Orations beautifully crafted wall of sounds, there notoriously persisted evidence of bands as important as The Skids, Theater of Hate, Spear of Destiny, Death Cult, Southern Death Cult, Modern English, This Heat, TV 21 or The Alarm just to mention a few of them.
Nowadays the major temptation of a considerable number of post punk bands seems to merely be to emulate the classics of the genre without much room for a creative renewal of the soundscape. Spiritless and gutless post punktitude. Many seem comfortable to just reproduce a variety of The Cure and New Order basslines or Echo & The Bunnymen heavenly lysergic guitars like they were to be used only as a matrix to fit-all-songs. Art forms should not become an effortless and vacant reproduction, which makes it unwise for a band to only pretend to sound to some famed band. It must overcome that mediocre temptation. Reproducing a classic sonic blast is clearly unequal to reproducing the specificity of the individual circumstance of the artist in a given point in time, which directly or indirectly made that original artist achieve a singular status within a specific music genre or with a certain work of art.
The Orations masterfully avoided to incur in such error because no matter how much they genuinely sound to Post-Punk (with all the A to Z references) they stunningly sound to the very sound they're making and this is a fantastic achievement that must be praised. They were fully able to incorporate and surpass the aesthetic constriction of their musical background influences and rework master them up to the point of crafting a sound of their own absolutely non-outdated that undeniably sounds to Post-Punk made in Buffalo (NY) in 2016, not to Post-Punk made in the 78 - 83 period anywhere in London, Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow or Sheffield in UK.
The Orations couldn't sound any better than they actually do. They are a powerful, awesome, electrifying four piece with majestic urban crunchy guitars ranging from edgy jagged riffing to a certain Marr-esque jangle pop; a roaring rhythm section which i honestly find as one of the most effective and exciting I have heard in recent years where the hypnotic basslines deeply converge into viciously tribalistic drum patterns all of it wrapped perfectly with one of the most brilliant eclectic female voices of contemporary Post-Punk: Jess Collins.
When I first listen to Wych Elm I stood immediately mesmerized by Jess Collins vocal abilities which enable her to evoke either Siouxsie Sioux, Elizabeth Frazer or Harriet Wheeler song after song and in many cases within the same song. When I hear people praising certain Grammy or Brit awarded singers I think to myself if they ever listened to the superb Jess Collins? I believe they haven't, but they should. Needless to say how much her vocal technique enhances the powerful release of each song and actually help make them oscillate from a mild claustrophobia to a certain contrived happiness.
A final word of appraisal to Jess, Paul, Jason and Matt: you’ve done a hell of a great album that without doubt will be a damned good burden on your shoulders when it comes the time to beguin working on the sophomore one. One thing is certain, it will be at least as good as Wych Elm.
INDIEVOTION RATING: 8.5/10
TRACK BY TRACK
BLACK LUNG opens the album and the very first feel that you have is that it seeks to blend The Smiths vibe with The Sundays and some Psychedelic Furs with New Order underneath and then suddenly almost out of the blue it gets transformed into some groovy electryfing pop punk. IRON
is the following song and it starts in a highly spirited syncopation where it is inevitable to not think about some of The Smiths most famed compositions but also the rhytmic disquietness of The Sound. This said the song lives for itself considering that the influences aforementioned are but a starting point. A very danceable almost frenetic tune that perspires the festive feeling that also inhabits post punk. OH THE HORROR leaves no room for indifference. Addictive, vicious, hypnotic, it compulsively glues to your body. Irrisistable.
DEATH AND CO. has again a strong Cures-que influence with some bits of early U2 with some brush strokes of Echo & The Bunnymen. The edgy guitar with a superb bassline and demolishing drumming makes this song as vicious as opium. Jess Collins is sublime in here. SPEED OF DARK is anthemic. It leaves us with the impression of hearing The Cure sounding to New Order. Fabulously contagious and dreamy with that inevitable touch of urban grim that helped make the post punk poetics. The song is absolutely delicious. Brilliant vocals as always. In fact, if there is something that among other aspects emerges from Wych Elm the fantastic singer most post punk bands, either back in the golden 80's or nowadays just do not have. Jess Collins raised the vocal quality to a whole new level with her addictive singing.
LAROCHE Perfect alternative indie pop in a post punk framework. Refreshingly danceable. The first time that i listened to it inevitably brought to mind the very best of 80's trendy indie pop. Initially, it briefly sounds to The Smiths “This Charming Man” only enriched with a fantastically voracious bassline and guitar patterns where The Cure influences are again evident but superbly rearranged. The vocals a complete eardrum bliss. CATERWAUL opens with a really Peter Buck-esque guitar, which lasts for the whole song which seems quite R:E:M. influenced. TIRED, TRIED is an awesome song with a powerfully hypnotic intro that reminds either the Southern Death Cult and some precocious Gene Love Jezebel both mixed with a touch of Psychedelic Furs (John Ashton era) new wave approach. The bass line is just gorgeous and it could easily belong to early Mission or The Sisters of Mercy. The whole rhythm section is desirably vicious. This is definitely a tremendously good song to play live.
VALHALLA One more gem among many. Cavernous bassline, steady, powerful drumming and very Curesque guitar patterns. Great vocals. SPEAKING SPARKS comes out as the best vocal impersonation of Elisabeth Fraser that i have come across from many years. It also is the Cocteau Twins stereotype song of Wych Elm. Just fabulous the way Jess Collins captures the tone and timbre of Liz Fraser without pretending to copy cat her. Absolutely brilliant. A definitive must listen. THE TELL is the closing song and it is totally dope. A powerful tune with those lovely gut wrenched guitars, wild frenzy rhythm section with round fat basslines struggling with the drum beat rolls pounding steadily quite in the line of what we can for instance find whether in some of The Cult and The Alarm songs. The ever brilliant Jess Collins muffled, edgy singing feels like a sweet soft blade cutting through while blood spills all over. Gorgeous.