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Kris Orlowski and Andrew Joslyn create a fully-realized set of singer/songwriter tunes

October 17, 2012

I’ve been listening to Kris Orlowski tinker with his sound for a little over a year. His singer/songwriter tunes fluctuated between detailed, somber pieces and fluffy, Matt Nathanson-style pop songs in the At the Fremont Abbey and Warsaw EPs. Pieces We Are finds him coming into his own by finding a perfect collaborator in composer Andrew Joslyn.

Joslyn’s appearance in the five songs of Pieces We Are doesn’t abolish either side of Orlowski’s songwriting style. Instead, he writes intricate, involved arrangements that accentuate the best parts of Orlowski’s work and strengthen the lesser elements. This is not a “pop songwriter writes string parts” set-up; this is a composer’s work. The results are the best songs I’ve yet heard from Orlowski.

The easiest place to see Joslyn at work is in the plucky (literally) work he assigns the violins at the onset of “In Between Days.” Originally a gleefully upbeat tune by the Cure, it’s the sort of tune that could have come off as pleasant but uneventful in a folky arrangement. Joslyn keeps the instruments of the orchestra interacting with each other in a playful manner, counterpointing Orlowski’s more serious vocal delivery. The violin gets a beautiful solo in the bridge as the song floats to a halt.

“Cables” is another upbeat pop tune that benefits greatly from a perky, horn-heavy arrangement; however, this tune includes a pensive bridge. Orlowski is able to mesh the two parts of his sound more sincerely with the orchestra backing him up, which results in more fully realized songs throughout.

The attention to detail that Joslyn and Orlowski give even the fluffiest of pop tunes transfers to their darker material. “All My People Go” is a powerhouse of a tune, with Joslyn contributing tension and power to Orlowski’s skill at deploying a melodic hook within a melancholy mood. Many “with strings!” albums sound like the arrangement was pasted on afterwards, but Pieces We Are is a true collaboration of composer and songwriter: when the strings drop out for one chorus, it feels similar to when the bass or drums drop out in a punk song. When the players crash back in for a final go at the titular motif, it’s a triumphant, uplifting event.

Kris Orlowski and Andrew Joslyn have created a powerful, fully-realized set of tunes in Pieces We Are. Orlowski’s songwriting has grown to encompass multiple moods in a single song, and Joslyn adds depth to the work with his meticulously crafted orchestral arrangements. Pieces We Are shows off two musicians who are hitting their stride, which makes me excited and hopeful for their future individual and collaborative work. Download “All My People Go” below.

Horizon: Kris Orlowski — Warsaw

November 29, 2011

I celebrated the sober moments of Kris Orlowski‘s Fremont Abbey EP as “tunes that a man could make a career out of purveying,” while downplaying the more upbeat sections. I hate to write the same review twice, but I have the same response to Orlowski’s Warsaw. The gravitas imported into the darker tunes makes them memorable; the amorphous qualities of the happier tunes render them pallid.

“Way You Are,” the early release from this four-song offering, is a slow-building force. Instead of his previous acoustic guitar and strings, Orlowski employs a low-distortion, maximum-low-end electric with a bass/drums rhythm section to create an earthy, low-slung sound. The rumbling toms and treble-less guitars combine into a powerful beast, which is then given a direction by the haunting vocal performances of both Orlowski and his back-up singers. The arrangement is impeccable, and the overall effect is dramatic and immediate.

I would have titled the EP Way You Are, because “Warsaw” is a pleasant but undifferentiated tune that tells me nothing about Orlowski as a songwriter except that he has a fondness for pedal steel that extends beyond country music. “Soldier On” is a mite better, in that it employs a similar guitar tone as “Way You Are,” but there’s not really anything else to praise or insult about it when considering the force of “Way You Are” and “Oh No.”

The distant organ and spacious arrangement of “Oh No” evoke high points of the best dusty, wide-open-landscape tracks. The insistent drumming pushes the weary single-note picking ahead, while Orlowski holds dreary court with his vocals. The acoustic guitar is placed low in the mix, foregrounding the tension between the urgent and laconic. It’s like Bruce Springsteen on a Walkmen kick (but far too peppy for it to be the reverse, even if it is on the darker side of things), and it’s worth a second listen.

There’s something to be said for the fact that “Way You Are” and “Oh No” both break the 5:30 mark, while “Soldier On” and “Warsaw” both clock in exactly at 3:38. Orlowski is still playing both sides of the coin, but I have yet to be sold on his more perky stuff. His darker material shows a much closer attention to atmosphere, texture and arrangement; it engages me as a listener.

If Orlowski can bring that level of detail to his pop moments, they would be just as good as his heavier singer/songwriter material—it just hasn’t happened yet. Here’s to hoping that happens; “Way You Are” is really, really good. Grab that song here for free.

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

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