Out of Melbourne, Australia, Nearly Oratario–aka Simon Lam–recently released his sophomore EP Tin. Tin is a refreshing combination of melancholic singer-songwriter and the avant garde. Nearly Oratario’s unique instrumentation and modest vocals create an emotive album that is both soothing and utterly enthralling.
Nearly Oratario does not truly sound exactly like anything, yet The Dirty Projectors and Sufjan Stevens do come to mind. All three artists have created sounds very much their own; in a sense, that ties them together. I also think that Simon Lam’s voice is a softer version of David Longstreth’s, The Dirty Projectors’ lead singer. Similarly, the avant garde nature of Tin is comparable to Sufjan Steven’s later experimental work.
Nearly Oratario uses different looping techniques to arrive at the album’s sound. Lam anchors each song with a primary instrument like the piano (“I Would Not,” “Devonport”) along with the guitar (“Veracity”) and keyboard (“Tin,” “Occlude”) and then builds and loops on top of it. The looping includes other instruments, random sounds through the use of an electronic launchpad, and vocals. All of these layers come together to create a sound that gives you new discoveries at each listen. Tin is a multi-layered onion, but what do we find when we peel back the layers?
When we peel back the layers in Tin, we find melancholy. The last track, “Devonport,” is the most peeled-back song off the album, with Lam primarily using a piano and his voice as instruments. The tonal qualities of Lam’s voice are a little like what happens when you talk after having cried for a bit. Yet I wouldn’t call his voice whiny; it’s way too beautiful for that. The track’s slow pace, raw use of the piano, and emotional lyrics soldify the somber sound of the song. Over and over, “It burns,” repeats throughout the track. The song then comes toward an end with an array of eerie vocals and closes on the piano.
Tin’s soothing, emotive sound and interesting instrumentation come together to create an EP I could forever listen to on repeat.–Krisann Janowitz
Colorfeels‘ Syzygy is pretty much a primer of indie rock circa 2011: Grizzly Bear’s rustic qualities (“Pretty Walk,” “Be There”), Fleet Foxes’ harmonies (“Mirrored Walls”), Vampire Weekend’s triumphant afro-beat rhythms and textures (“Unplanned Holiday”), alt-country (“Fun Machine”), Bishop Allen’s quirky enthusiasm (the clarinet in “Fun Machine”), Generationals’ perky bass contributions (everywhere) and The Dirty Projectors’ free-flowing song styles (everywhere again). Thankfully, the band eschewed the currently en vogue garage rock recording style for an immaculately clear one.
It’s this pristine engineering that saves this from being a pastiche; even if you’ve heard all of these sounds before, they sound incredibly gorgeous coming from Colorfeels. The clarinet and piano on “Be There” may call up notions of everyone from Wilco to the Beatles, but the sound is so striking that you may not care (or even really notice). This is true of almost every tune — with the exception of “Zenzizenzizenzic,” whose shameless Muse appropriation feels totally out of place. I really enjoyed Syzygy on my first listen, but several minutes later I couldn’t remember anything about it except that I wanted to hear those pretty songs again. And they are very pretty.
After a half-dozen listens with the same ending thoughts (which is saying something — this debut is an hour long), I realized that Colorfeels has no signature. This album is gorgeous and almost infinitely malleable, but there’s not a single thing that screams COLORFEELS WAS HERE!
It should be noted that there aren’t any gimmicks to make it look like the band has a stamp (see aforementioned garage rock). For this they should be lauded; they are not hiding anything. They are what they are, and they let you hear that. That is admirable.
Syzygy is a mesmerizing indie-rock album that wears a lot of masks. Whether or not this was the intent is something only the members of Colorfeels can say. But I would love to see a group of instrumentalists and songwriters this talented explore one area of songwriting more thoroughly and place their stamp on music. It’s comforting and familiar, but there’s more to music than that.
Stephen Carradini and Lisa Whealy write reviews of instrumental, folk, and singer/songwriter music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.