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Orchard Drive – One Year EP

Orchard Drive – One Year EP,

Orchard Drive exudes straight-up, epic rock with a kiss of keys and hopeful lyrics

Do you remember when rock bands could mine a major key, hit and hold a crisp vocal note with panache and wax epic without reiterating every preceding reincarnation of the genre? If you lament that those days are forever behind us, put away your doubts; Orchard Drive, a product of Upstate New York’s rust-and-snow-belt, is rocking the doubt out of people’s ears. Their first release, a polished, neatly packaged three-song EP entitled One Year may be the first step towards restoring arena-rock a-la U2 to the radio waves. For a band that formed in 2005, lost their keyboardist to life commitments, and spent a year reforming their sound around a spare, three-member core, One Year symbolizes more than just three songs pressed on plastic; it represents both their love for rocking as well as their dedication to presenting a hopeful message.

Orchard Drive claims numerous influences, but I would grant that they sound most like a mix between U2, Coldplay, and early Switchfoot. The first track on One Year is pure piano-pop meets epic rock.  Nate Cronk’s vocals sound, at times, like a mix between fellow Rochesterarian Mike Zale and Switchfoot’s Jon Foreman. I readily picked up these nuances, as One Year’s production is pleasingly more professional than one might expect from a band’s first release.

Let me talk about hope for a moment. When you hear so many songs about depression, drugs, ruined relationships and a messed up world, it’s incredibly refreshing to hear a band like Orchard Drive. When one first hears Nate Cronk ask, in “Here’s To”, “So how do you feel inside?” one might expect an emotionally cathartic spilling of the lead singer’s guts… and that’s what you get. But rather than cynicism, Cronk belts out, “Here’s to tomorrow / I hope there’s another sun. / Here it is rising. / This has only just begun.”  I’ve heard many bands sing of hope, and even do so musically. O.D. takes their message seriously, and although it’s tough to put it into words, you know when someone means what he or she is singing. Cronk’s positive words ring true, and that’s hard to come by in today’s music. The album’s closer, “One Year” begins with Cronk breathing “This is the end, this is the end of the beginning… let’s not pretend this is tomorrow, let’s not pretend it came like we fit,” consciously reflecting on the difficult bit of work living is. But rather than pout or rage about it, against the backdrop of doubt, “How can we sing in a fallen land?/How can we sing for them?”, O.D. keeps looking for the goodness in life’s struggle. They conclude that “It’s not the end, it’s a beginning!” That sentiment, in itself, is refreshing.

One cannot simply pigeonhole Orchard Drive as a posi-core niche-filler, though. Some of their lyrics search deeply for meaning in a dark and commercialized world. “Here’s To” gets you pondering, making statements like, “You can look through the glass and ask what’s wrong,” while the driving opener “Still Alive” inquires in a late-song breakdown, “How long will you wait to give in? / Love means giving up everything.”  O.D. isn’t all surface, and the depth they bring to their lyrics reflects a serious commitment to a thought-provoking message.

I found Orchard Drive’s mix of hope and reflection on tough experiences and downers is worth hearing. Paired with solid musicianship, an innate sense of catchy yet powerful rock and solid production, it’s hard to not believe Orchard Drive won’t stop at One Year.

-Timothy C. Avery