Experimental music is cool. John Zorn's label Tzadik loves releasing experimental music. Kayo Dot, Mike Patton, and various other artist pushing the boundaries of the idea of music all have their home on Tzadik. Time of Orchids is a relatively unknown art rock quartet concentrating on making beautifully progressive music in the vein of Mr. Bungle. "Sarcast While" is their third release and definitely their most interesting in that it goes through a various blend of genres in a very short amount of time. While always keeping a very beautiful sound, "Sarcast While" is a very aggressive record that for many will take a good amount of listens to fully understand, but at the end of that trek of listening, they will come to realize it is one of the most inventive and perfect progressive rock albums to be released in recent times.
Defining the music on "Sarcast While" is a challenge in itself. The main thing to note on this album is the production, while most avant garde progressive pieces rely on spotless production so that every instrument can clearly come from "Sarcast While" has very raw, almost Alibiesque production. The drums certainly aren't as much in the forefront but that sense of emotionally bare urgency is very prevalent throughout the album. "Ours, Engendered" is a perfect example of the feel of the production, the various screams and crazy runs on guitar and bass are very gently put out there in a very aggressive way. While the song certainly is hard, it doesn't have the heaviness that bands such as Kayo Dot, or The Dillinger Escape Plan have. Supposedly there are five vocalists on "Sarcast While", four male and one female (Julee Cruise of David Lynch's Twin Peaks Soundtrack). While its obvious at some points there is more than one vocalist singing at a time, (i.e. "All We Ever Wish") most of the vocals seem to be done by a lead with slight harmonizing provided by the other four members. This is another unique aspect of "Sarcast While" for most progressive bands the entire focus of their records seems to be to push the limits and ideas of the musical aspect of music, where as Time of Orchids mainly concentrates on creating a beautiful canvas instrumentally for their various vocalist to paint over. This unique usage of vocals is another key to what makes "Sarcast While" such an interesting and refreshing addition to the progressive scene.
Most of the records songs follow a much lesser and more serious Mr. Bungle type structure. Various sections just pop out of nowhere, and sudden genre shifts like the sudden screams in the middle of some beautiful vocal harmonies on the track "A Man To Hide" make the songs feel like they are constantly evolving to bigger and better things. In my opinion this is a very important element to harness in a progressive rock band, not only the ability to progress into new parts but progress into new parts that are actually interesting and worthwhile of progressing into. The problems with some bands such as Spiral Architect, and The Mars Volta, is they build a very interesting part but then immediately replace it with something less interesting, thus not letting the listener enjoy the part that could've easily been more developed and made the song much better. Time of Orchids suffers rarely because of how organic and beautiful their shifts are into new parts, the only band I can think of that is more fluid in their section changes is Kayo Dot.
Instrumentally, every member of this band is terrific. The drummer and bassist are an extremely tight and inventive rhythm section, and the incorporation of very original and creative guitar lines is great. The interesting thing about "Sarcast While" is the heavy parts tend to be done with very clean guitar parts, but very distorted bass parts, its a unique touch that helps the band further carve out a sound that is all their own. Subtle additions of horns on tracks, and the various adding of small electronic sounds in the interlude help balance out the mostly guitar, bass, drum centered album. The lyrical content of "Sarcast While" is emotionally revealing and solid, the layering of vocals makes it at times hard to hear what the vocalists are actually saying but in my opinion that is not much of a problem, as anyone can just go to a lyrics site and follow along from there.
In album structure, "Sarcast While" is flawless, constantly evolving into different and more interesting songs, plus balancing out moods effortlessly. There are numerous "epics" on the album with some of the tracks running up to ten minutes, but also there are three minute explosions of ideas that help balance out these larger lengthened tracks. The album can be a little bit too heavy in length terms, rounding in at around an hour and five minutes, but the constant evolution of moods really doesn't let it become boring. It seems to be about the right size, but during the middle, songs like "Swarm of Hope" and "Earned Over" start to sound a little bit too similar in progression sense to the earlier tracks. While this is a problem, it is a very small one and "Sarcast While" is one of the most balanced progressive records in terms of the barrage of ideas that I have ever heard. The final and in my opinion most important attribute that makes "Sarcast While" successful is its ability to be so beautiful, even in its heavy parts. The elegance of the vocals and music at times is just breathtakingly enjoyable and overwhelming that it drenches the listener in its sounds, much like how some people feel about My Bloody Valentine's "Loveless".
"Sarcast While" is an original, inventive and beautiful progressive record that at times is very unnerving but always satisfying. Few progressive bands could release an album as interesting and unique as this one so I have to commend Time of Orchids for their supearb job on this record. If you have any inkling in avant garde progressive acts, you should defiantly check out "Sarcast While" because in my opinion it is one of the finest albums in its respective "genre".