On “Arrow Drawn”, BenoÃ®t Pioulard sings, “I never ever cared about your real name/So never tell them your real name,” hinting at a de-centered and remote subjectivity. It’s an apt description of the music of Orcas: distant, elusive, and de-centered. The band plays right into this characterization on Orcas, titling one of their ambient soundscapes that pass for songs “Certain Abstractions”.
To say that the tracks of this debut album “pass for songs” isn’t derogatory, since there are few resemblances to traditional song structures. Rather, Pioulard and composer Rafael Anton Irisarri conjure washes of bass-forward sound that fill your headphones, peppered with airy lyrics and fleeting repetitive wisps of piano, guitar, and percussion. Various types of white noise are omnipresent, giving the music an expansiveness which further isolates the non-melodic single notes.
When Orcas allow aspects of pop/rock to permeate deeper into the lonely ambience, the music is at its best. “Until Then” is based around a sparse piano ostinato with acoustic guitar counterpoint and a gorgeous, folk-like vocal melody. As the song progresses, it drowns in synthesized noise that slowly engulfs the entire stereophonic field, becomes angrily distorted, and then abruptly terminates, leaving only the skeleton of the piano riff. “Carrion” provides the closest thing Orcas has to a drumbeat, with a vocal melody that explores a higher octave with great aplomb.
Even though the album is full of sound, very little happens. This is mood music, an atmospheric soundtrack to a psychedelic comedown at sunrise. The minimal quality that defines this music also limits it; songs like “Standard Error” and “Certain Abstractions” are all drone and ostinato without any standout qualities. Yet there are sublime moments, such as the vocal harmonies on “Arrow Drawn”. Here, the music seems to sharpen and come into focus, and all the various strands of background ambiance, piano and guitar riffs, and throbbing bass suddenly cohere. It points to the fact that Pioulard and Irisarri are not just a pair of Seattle hipsters screwing around with synthesizers. There’s a craft to their harmonies, their timbral choices, and even their restraint.
Essential Tracks: “Until Then”, “Carrion”, “Arrow Drawn”, and “Pallor Cedes”