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Orienteers – Album Review

Sometimes simplicity is bliss.

Orienteers are the heavy-lidded lords of a sweet, sleepy land of achingly pretty melodies, peaceful reflection and fuzzy warmth. They seem to need very little to create a dreamlike haze of happy reverie, and thus are almost impossible to dislike. You could easily fall asleep to their music, but you’d do so with a smile on your face.

pretty melodies, peaceful reflection and fuzzy warmth

Orienteers is a lovely album. Try as I may to avoid slipping into the realm of dewy-eyed granny-isms, it’s an unavoidable fact. OK, maybe not ‘lovely’ like a cup of milky tea, more like the most idyllic sunset imaginable in a place thousands of miles from all your worldly cares.

It’s not even like they sound like they’re putting that much effort into it. Every track does little more than drift along, aimlessly yet flawlessly tuneful. There’s a breezy air that ensures listening is fairly easy going, but that’s not to say that this is a one-dimensional album. Instead, think of it more as a gently undulating landscape – never dramatic, never taxing, but never dull (that’s for all the music-loving ramblers out there). It proves that music doesn’t have to constantly shock or surprise to keep you interested. Orienteers’ music is never les than enjoyable for this very reason.

They glide effortlessly through fragile soundscapes that touch on folk, country, post-rock, ambient, space rock and shoegaze without ever overtly subscribing to any of them, instead quietly and understatedly shuffling through their shadows.

a half-whispered echo that is not dissimilar to the emotive hush of the late Mark Linkous

The overriding atmosphere is one of wide-eyed hope, but of such a fragile nature that you’re almost afraid to turn the music up lest you break it. This is encapsulated by Ben Wilson’s coy vocals, a half-whispered echo that is not dissimilar to the emotive hush of the late Mark Linkous.
It doesn’t exactly open with a bang, but it’s certainly no whimper.

‘Valediction’ consists of no more than the simplest of harmonic guitar riffs, but succeeds instantly in whisking you away to dreamland. Job done. This is followed by the aptly named ‘Walking Song’, all ambling beat, countrified fragility, lovely lap-steel and chiming piano. A sudden dip into pair of minor chords adds suspense, but overall the song’s cyclical but perfectly formed simplicity could only ever be uplifting. Why add more? It provides a perfect partner for the more downbeat ‘May-Queen Girl’, its sense of sorrowful reflection balanced with a notion of awestruck anticipation.

Valediction by orienteers

Admittedly, this initial clutch of songs serves to tell you pretty much all you need to know about Orienteers. They certainly aren’t Nine Inch Nails, just in case that needed clearing up. By the time ‘A Hymn For The Old Salt’ rings out its final, church organ- bolstered (obviously) notes, you’d be beyond expecting any huge surprises.

That is, at least, until the gargantuanly-titled ‘Mastodon’ revs up with a blast of gnarly feedback. For a moment, you can’t help but wonder whether perhaps you’re about to hear something more akin to the song’s namesake band. Of course not. Once Orienteers have tossed that little curveball away, they hunker down to some twinkling bar-room piano balladry. No surprises, then? Well, that’s not quite the whole story, as the track mutates into a soft-edged twist on space-age noise-rock, with the ghost of some fairly rocky riffage hidden beneath unearthly swells of sound. Though this trick was memorably employed by the aforementioned Linkous on Sparklehorse’s Good Morning Spider, they manage to avoid being derivative by injecting a hefty dose of their own sweet-natured charm. Though the noise echoes on into ‘It’s A Long Life’, we’re firmly back into steel-guitar laden country shuffle by then.

lap-steel and some gorgeous chord changes

Yes, Orienteers are, despite their spacier forays, quite happy to ramble in a soporific fashion around the lighter, sunnier territories of music. Though a few tracks keep to the format a little too rigidly, and therefore don’t do enough to distinguish themselves, the overall hazy atmosphere is achingly pretty. Out of this rise several highlights. The slight ‘Little Words’ consists of no more than voice and four chords of echoing, sustain-heavy piano that renders it incredibly moving. ‘I Tried To Picture Us’ makes the most of the lap steel and some gorgeous chord changes, before a fluttering trumpet leads it to a brief climax, then down again into the thumping pulse of the verses. The album closes all too soon, receding into the depths with the twinkling beauty of ‘Entirely’.

Orienteers will never change the world. Despite a smattering of unexpected touches, they have no need for wild experimentalism. All they need to worry about is keeping on doing what they do as well as they do it here, and, as their optimistic-sounding music would suggest, things will turn out just fine. They are a fine band who have created a largely beautiful album, and, though quietly and unobtrusively, should be on their way to great things.

Orienteers is out now on Antique Room

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