Review Summary: Wild Orchid Children are also bananas.
Every time a band calls it quits, which almost all will inevitably do, you can pretty much count on the requisite whining from fanboys and girls acting as though their last remaining reason for living has been stripped from them. I think it's with maturity that a particular band's life-or-death importance fades away, but having seen countless bands come and go over the years, I have another reason not to take a band breakup too hard: the prospect of what the members might create after being released from the shackles of their old group. One prime case in point: Wild Orchid Children. Since the demise of Gatsbys American Dream, we've already heard some forward-thinking (and paradoxically retro) stuff from spinoff act Kay Kay and His Weathered Underground and gotten a teaser of an EP from Wild Orchid Children, and yet the debut full-length The Wild Orchid Children Are Alexander Supertramp
seems to have fallen into our laps from out of nowhere, and it's nothing short of magnificent. Leaving behind the familiar realm of punchy powerpop in favor of extended psychedelic jams is a ballsy move, but for Kirk Huffman and his bandmates, it pays of handomely.
After the short intro of a title track, the Children get right to the goods with the album's eighteen-minute magnum opus "Black Shiny FBI Shoes", an electrifying encapsulation of everything the band does well. For the first four minutes, it plays like a nearly radio-friendly tune with Huffman's bark reminiscent of Zack de la Rocha leading The White Stripes or perhaps a Church Mouth
-era Portugal. The Man. Then things get weird, with drummer Andy Lum and percussionist and effects whiz Aaron Benson taking charge, laying down complex rhythms (a la Can or Faust) and Thomas Hunter supplying the blistering guitar work. Most bands courageous enough to attempt such an expansive piece would stick it at the end of the album, probably figuring no one will make it to the end of it anyway-- and no big deal, they've already heard everything else. By tossing their epic right up front, Wild Orchid Children seem to be making the exact opposite statement here: if you listen to anything
on Alexander Supertramp
, make it "Black Shiny FBI Shoes". The gambit is an effective one; I can't imagine anyone hearing it and being anything less than stoked for what the rest of the album holds in store.
No one left excited by "Shoes" should be disappointed by what follows. "Peyote Coyote" is a trippy concoction of crunchy guitars, '60-style psych-rock organ, swirling sirens, tribal rhythms and Huffman's bleat-- along with a 4:20 run-time that seems anything but coincidental. "Lasers in the Jungle" would probably make the strongest single from the record, with its direct approach and relatively short duration. Its title and content also embody what's so special about Alexander Supertramp
as a whole. On one hand, it's fresh, futuristic and progressive, and yet it's also unquestionably primal. A great many bands play the whole throwback garage rock 'n' roll game, and a number do it quite well, but they seem to succeed by boiling it down to its rawest and grittiest components (e.g. the minimalist approach of The White Stripes). Wild Orchid Children turn this idea on its head, employing an endless array of embellishments, none of which sounds at all capricious. You get the feeling that this is how The Mars Volta would sound covering Zeppelin or the Stones or The White Stripes for that matter.
But originality be damned. I'll be the first to decry a band being weird just for the sake of being weird. All too often, intrepid bands follow their muse a step too far down the prog-experimental wormhole, leaving the masses wondering exactly what the hell they're hearing. Wild Orchid Children make balancing on that precarious tightrope seem effortless, crafting an album that sounds inspired and throroughly exciting without being masturbatory, self-indulgent or alienating. Alexander Supertramp
is a balls-to-the-wall thrill that's nothing short of astonishing. Gatsby's American who?