The Orwells - Disgraceland

Youthful group release their second album with scratchy fumbles but hidden, distorted promise.

Additional Info

5.9

ALBUM: Disgraceland

ARTIST: The Orwells

2014

Alternative

Youth-injected, high-wired, blonde hair exploding, tight pants wearing, punks, from the outskirts of Chicago, some members of The Orwells just graduated from high school a year ago with the road and live concert promoting shenanigans in sight. Now these rock ‘n’ roll babies just put out their second album Disgraceland, channeling a balance of pop-rock and punk in order to illustrate a varied new sound that opens the eyes of loyal listeners and new fans to come. However, the high hopes that were once undeniable for this new band seem overestimated as their recent release appears forced and alien compared to their old sound. There seems to be a contortion of sound on Disgraceland, growing into an avalanche of confusion for the album as some tracks do not seem to sound cohesive at all. The energy that was exciting and invigorating, classic and natural, on their debut album Remember When faded away, a helium balloon let loose by the grip of an ignorant child. What once sounded like haphazardly controlled flower punk is now a peculiar mix of pop and nineties alternative that leaves the listener perplexed.

The issue with Disgraceland is that the sound is varied. It’s dysfunctional. There is a a fine line between asking the question “Oh who is this band?” and “What is this band?” There is a loss of intrigue after a few songs, the talent gets lost within the messy production and disorder. It seems that only an album ago did this band know who they were. The result is an album that has moments that expose the shine and promise, while the other gray areas make the album an inaccessible conundrum that begs the listener to question who this band is. The delirious moaning on “Norman” and copy cat vocals on “Dirty Sheets” are moments where one has to question The Orwells and if they have rushed into something that they are not prepared for. Moments where there is a gap transition from tracks like “Who Needs You” to “Norman” or from “Bathroom Tile Blues” to “ Gotta Get Down” The Orwells conjure confusion of four completely different sounds; and not in a way where the plethora of genres exhibited portray variety, but multi-personality dementia. The inconsistency of the album is what really seems to get the band in trouble. Cuomo’s vocals sound different on almost every track. But the major dilemma is not contributed to the fact that these songs are flat, or bad, but only adequate. The songs feel forced, immature. They fall in places or lag for too long in others. The potential of The Orwells is very much here, it’s just hidden under a mess of scratchy guitars and pop melodies.

So what happened to the band that charmed the audience of David Letterman and Letterman himself this past January with hip-pulsating antics, rolling on the ground in the lightening vibrations of the band jamming in the background? Young. Unexpected. Alive. These are all words that pertain to The Orwells and the reason why this band can be so compelling, addicting. Tracks “The Righteous One,” “Who Needs You,” and “Always N Forever,” are highlight the hollow, and haunting vocals of Cuomo, the biting guitars of Dominic Corso and Matt O’keefe, the sadistic bass of Grant Brinner, and the energy steering drums of Henry Brinner. The lyrics leave tipsy and nostalgic with lust. The tone of the album seems to be surprisingly dark, contrasted against the light and bouncy pop-rock infested production. Some songs take on the endless theme of unrequited love with alcohol, while other topple into the terrain of lust gone wrong and fatal love affairs. With a mixture of rockstar cliches and overworked songs, it ain’t bad, but it ain’t great: as put in “Southern Comfort” they “ain’t the worst, [they] ain’t the best.”

"Eyes on the prize, Eyes on the prize/ I'm not that old but I'm getting pretty wise."

1. Southern Comfort
“Coke and Rum, Can I taste your tongue?” should be a modern day pick up line: it’s blunt, raw and sneaks up on you like the sting of a bitter shot straight from the bottle as lead singer Mario Cuomo sings of youth and belligerent fun. Sex, drugs, and alcohol, how much more cliche rock ‘n’ roll can one get? While the song spews out energy infused hormones like an open electrical socket, the guitar is dirty and naked, complementing the carnal anticipation of Cuomo . The song starts out with a solid drumbeat that kicks off like a Ramones song, but transitions into something more pop sounding with the sliver of beachy riffs and Cuomo’s dull screams. Simply put: the song seems just sort of like a generic rock song, imitating the formula of buzzy guitars and potent vocals. The track is very contained though, not really exciting vocals. It will get your head bobbing, while the lyrics make you feel nostalgic or just make you laugh. However, it seems sort of basic, like who is this band? This makes me want to jump around and take a shot, but is that it? The track has satisfactory energy, like any suburban punk song. It might be appetizing to the ear, but does it leave one full? Not really.6.5
2. The Righteous One
Ignorant words seem to fill this track. Not ignorant in a dumb sense, as the song has a youthful mood that fills the air with sparks as Cuomo’s monotone, albeit angry sounding at times, voice fills the air as well as the smoke that he sings of: “Smoke in the air/ I don’t have a care.” The opening guitar stings as if touching the edges of the game Operation. The vocals, as well as the lyrics, seem a little bit hollow and cryptic, making it almost inaccessible, yet the universal tone of “I don’t give a shit,” is enticing and provactive. However, there is a fine line of trying to make such a tone come alive within a track without making it seem forced or inauthentic. Cuomo seems to capture a relentless energy at moments like the chorus and the opening, yet there seems to be blandness that makes the song mediocre. The warped guitar bends close to the end of the song are a good touch and change up the song a bit, but the poor choice was not choosing to end the song at that point. The track unexpectedly and unnecessarily comes back to life, dragging on for a minute too long.7.5
3. Dirty Sheets
The screech of the guitar at the beginning of the track is a mess, not an attractive choice for the opening, starting the track off on a bad foot. Cuomo’s vocals sound like an aggressive Dan Auerbach. The tone of the song is complete paranoia, yet the track is about falling in love (or lust) as Cuomo sings, “There’s something missing in my chest/ show me the hill, show me the view/ I swear I’m coming back for you... I found myself when I found you.” The pitchy guitar is a bit heavy sounding at first, almost punky, but after a while it becomes a nuisance to the track. The rolling drums and guitar riff seem dated, or out of place with the opening verse. This track is a bit scary and not really worth your time.4.0
4. Bathroom Tile Blues
A raunchy ode to the scummy bottom, this track is a catchy melodic tune with a poppy soulful edge. The track is a a little out of place compared to the rest of Disgraceland. The pace is slowed down and guitar is whiny, not very distorted. The track is completely clean cut, except for the lyrics, “Another vacant room/ another shitty room/ I got the bathroom tile blues/ Bunch of empty bottles.” The implicit sickness of the heart and the hooch is one that seems to be repetitive on this album, but the most glorified on this track. The soulful aspect of the track gives it a retro vibe, separating itself from the grungier tracks of the album.4.5
5. Gotta Get Down
The opening riff on this track is really sinister and dark, setting up a great tone and great transition for the rest of the band to hop in. The drumbeat with guitar and rumbling bass go perfectly. The Little whiny and screaming guitar melodies added here and there do not seem unnecessary or out of place. It’s dark and raw. Simple, not forced. This track is pretty good. The lyrics are suspenseful, at times bloodcurdling: “I’m starting to feel numb/ can’t see me in the mirror/ My daddy’s got a twelve gauge/ I hope I don’t find it.” The track is sinister and stands out from the rest. It would not be too stupid to keep an eye on this one.7.0
6. Let It Burn
One of the poppiest tracks on the album, opening with a catchy riff that hooks you begging the question, “Do you want some more?” It is another pretty standard pop-rock track keeping it soft, not with the guitar melodies but harder with the guitar on the chorus, manifesting itself into a head bashing type of track. The songs balance on a tightrope of chewy pop-rock that one can sink his or her teeth into, and a heavier type of track with the rush of the drums and shrill of distortion. The chorus is dull (“I just let it burn”) over and over again in an androgynous, lethargic daze that gets boring after the second time. Along with the chorus, the rest of the lyrics are equally simple. It does not have the same energy or excitement that dated Orwells’ tracks carry, it seems forced and a bust.5.5
7. Who Needs You
It’s upbeat. It’s nautical. It’s a trip. Cuomo’s vocals are enticing and passionate. They are haunted: he gives this track new vocal inflections that are different from any other track on this album, but they work extremely well. The song has really, really great energy. This should be the opening track just so one doesn’t have to wade through six songs in order to finally get a sense of what the band is like. Cuomo’s high pitched whoas are vibrantingly, vicious, and prevent the song from collapsing into a hole of boredom, which is what seems to be the verdict on much of the album. Infectious. Chaotic. Controlled. Who doesn’t love a good ole anarchic song? “Listen up forefathers/ I’m not your son/ You better pass the flask/ You better join the army/ I said, ”No thank you, dear old Uncle Sam,’” Cuomo mockingly chants as the political fever overtakes the track. Criticizing the abuse of the government military of youthful, ignorant kids. With “Who Needs You” as the title of the track, it could be a possible questioning of the government and war antics, while a hypnotic baseline and patriotic drumbeat that creates a nice marching rhythm compliment. It’s a beautiful track to question authority while taking a shot or two. Not a bad night.8.0
8. Norman
Okay. This track is just bad. “House full of horrors, house full of people/ lock all the doors kids are hanging from the bleachers/ house full of horrors, house full of people/ You’re not gonna make it to the sequel,” ...Wait what? Just from the title the track sounds intriguing, who's Norman? An Alfred Hitchcock reference? Oh, Sick Right On! NO. Wrong. The lyrics are interesting, a little dull and cheesy. But the melody and production is the worst of it all. The song drags on for almost five minutes as Cuomo moans for a good quarter of the song. Maybe he is supposed to be imitating a ghost, or trying to sound haunted. But, wow, is it pitchy and not attractive at all. The guitar melody in the back is lovely, sounding like a nineties slow dance, but does not seem to match up with the track at all. The guitar solo seems to be the only redeeming quality of the track and when the moans start to echo, the song starts to pick up a bit. But whoever through in the jingle bells might have been on drugs, making an attempt at a a haunted Christmas track. Steer clear of this one.3.5
9. Always and Forever
Making a slick, but solid, recover from “Norman” The Orwells bring out pure rock ‘n’ roll on this track with the brooding, opening guitar melody that dissipates as the verse begins and Cuomo’s voice sounds dazed and bored. But the energy sky rockets at the chorus with shouts and lovely harmonies in the background, creating a perfect contrast. The addition of the engine in the middle of the track is spontaneous, but keeps the track fun as the lyrics buzz, “who’d a thought I ran out of luck/ came around the bend a little too fast/ she lost her love in a motorcycle crash.” A track about haunted love that should bring a subtle jaw drop, but instead makes one want to jump around. The tracks dissonance makes it a hit leaving one with a euphoric high.8.0
10. Blood Bubbles
The lyrics are gut-wrenching and heartbreaking. Cuomo’s vocals are classic and grief-filled. The guitar screams mimic that of the ones of the girls hidden within Cuomo’s words. The drumbeat and strum pattern is hard, pulsating, and terrifying, carrying suspense that is reminiscent of when watching a horror film yelling at the dumbass characters on the screen not to go down the dark alleyway or when the gang from Scooby Doo would split up. However, this track is no comedic cartoon with painful, bleeding syllables as Cuomo cries, “ She screamed now for help, but nobody came/ so she picked up my gun/ and put it to her brain/ She begged, she begged, she screamed/ Said God give me help, Then she decided to do it herself.” The vocals on this are so natural and the track radiates rock ‘n’ roll. It’s a sad song, and may deem itself a bit repetitive at first, however after a few listens the song seems to grow better with age.7.0
11. North Ave.
It’s a track that sounds youthful, but also aged simultaneously. The guitar melodies sound retro, while the lyrics keep a immature tone, talking of the school yard and young love. Naive and ambitious undertones makes the track sound like a classic for the dreamers. Gravitating towards the the guitar hook and Cuomo’s raspy and soulful tones, makes for an adequate closer, but is confusing, chaotic, and, disorganized. The end is very pop orientated ending on a melancholy note with a broken heart and repeated quote.4.5
Written by Margaret Farrell
Margaret Farrell is a writer from outside Chicago. She is currently a student at New York University, studying journalism and creative writing.

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