Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

The Imaginary Orchestra makes real chamber pop songs that charm

April 20, 2011

I listen to enough music for two or three people, between my real job and this venture. It takes an incredible song to enamor me for much longer than a few days. The Imaginary Orchestra‘s “Unbaptized Believer” is one of those such songs.

It’s not a perfect song. The three-piece Imaginary Orchestra recorded the tunes on “Hellow!” crowded around a single microphone, giving the album’s chamber-pop tunes a earnest immediacy and not hiding any flaws. Songwriter Steven Eiler has a couple moments where his voice doesn’t nail the note, and there are things here and there that would be scrubbed out of a studio recording. But the rawness of the track is part of what makes it glorious.

“Unbaptized Believer” is about the push and pull between organized but stale religious ceremony and unorganized but alive experience of religion. Any religious topic treated with dignity and thought keeps me coming back to the tune, but this particular issue is something I care deeply about. Eiler gives the lyrics a passionate treatment that doesn’t get maudlin or preachy, and that’s very difficult.

Another point of entry is the music itself, which is primarily acoustic guitar, bell kit, violin and three voices. The instruments enhance and augment Eiler’s passionate lyrics and melody without being invasive, and contribute quite a bit of emotion to the tune. There’s a moment where all three members of the band just go for it on a section, and it’s shiver-inducing (“by our names,” for those keeping track at home).

Yes, the whole song comes together neatly in a raw, honest experience that is way more interesting to me with errors and warts than hundreds of other perfect tunes.

The rest of the tracks on “Hellow!” shine with a similar sparkle, only a little less brightly. The title track features a complicated but not unfriendly vocal arrangement and contrabassoon, which is impressive on both counts.  “Lord Who Hears, Please Lend Us Your Ear” is another beautiful tune in the vein of “Unbaptized Believer,” while “Holy Ground” and “No Time Is Enough” are each a minute and a half of thoughtful musing. “At the Bottom of the Hill” is the most pop-friendly tune here, kicking off with a “ohhhhhh, WHOA-OH-OH-OH!!” vocal line and continuing in a pleasantly upbeat way.

The Imaginary Orchestra’s “Hellow!” is a raw, honest recording of ten very thoughtful tunes. Whether having fun with arrangements or delivering impassioned performances of well-written lyrics, The Imaginary Orchestra does everything they do with gusto. This results in a set of lively, engaging tunes that will keep you coming back for more. I look forward to more from The Imaginary Orchestra. Get the whole set for free at the above link.

Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.

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