The Orbans, When We Were Wild

The Orbans, When We Were Wild

With “New Dress,” Forth Worthites The Orbans’ When We Were Wild starts off on a nicely subtle, roots-pop note, with drums that rumble low to the road, guitars that slide and drift like on a Son Volt album, a hint of a Britpop influence in the arrangement, and vocals just this side of The Stills. And it ain’t bad, as it rolls along.

And then the chorus hits, and the damn thing explodes. After that, holy crap is it cool — seriously, the first time I heard it happen, I hit the “Back” button three times in a row and took easily seven minutes to hear all of an almost-four-minute song. The drums ride a four-on-the-floor stomp that’s impossible to not foot-drum along with, the guitars grab hold of some seriously Band of Horses-esque glory, vocalist/guitarist Pete Black channels all the best parts of Win Butler and Ryan Adams, all at once, and the song itself lifts off into the cloud-filled, murky, turbulent skies above. Oh, and then they go and throw some warbly keyboards in, just for fun. And then handclaps, the kind that don’t feel out-of-place or gimmicky; no, really.

On second track “Songs We Sang,” I’m thrown a bit at first by the jaunty, tinkly barroom piano, but again, when these guys get to the chorus, they do not fuck around — it lodges in your brain after scarcely a second for you to say, “wait, what was that…?”

See, despite their youth, The Orbans are somehow past masters of the hook, effortlessly evoking ridiculously catchy folks like Fountains of Wayne, The Replacements, and Big Star and grafting ’em onto a roots-rock-gone-electric frame that looks a lot like the aforementioned Stills. (Or maybe The Figgs, if that sadly underrated band were to dabble in some alt-country.) And they seed those awesome, flawlessly-crafted hooks into every damn track on When We Were Wild.

Take the melancholy, gentle “Don’t Lose Yourself,” for example — the song bumps along on its country-pop way, more like Band of Annuals or Houston’s own Literary Greats than anything else. It’s got the same, smart, quiet-smiling gentility as both of those bands, a feel that makes it clear these guys know exactly what they’re doing and could probably do nothing else, even if they wanted to. You very nearly have to physically force the grin off your face by the end of the track.

Then there’s the more fully power-pop-influenced “Left Side,” whose poppy tendencies are leavened by some rumbling organ and Western-sounding guitars to end up like (yeah, again) The Stills, and “Mother,” which comes off like a lovelorn Tom Petty amped up on a shitload of energy drinks and backed up by Songs From Northern Britain-era Teenage Fanclub.

Or early single “Like A Liar,” which’ll have you yelling along “She’s a liiiiiaaaaar” as you tear down the freeway, headed for somewhere simpler, friendlier, and warmer than where you are now. The band somehow manages to take more straightforward, countryish/folky songs like “Were Her,” the church-y, gorgeous title track, and Black’s solo effort “Darlin My Dreams” and infuse them with a buoyant, head-snapping pop sensibility — without making ’em sappy or country-lite, mind you, and that’s no mean feat.

Even “Barely Someone Known,” which hits a few missteps near its start and is the closest When We Were Wild comes to having a clunker in the mix, works better than it seems like it’s going to once the melody takes hold, sweeping upwards from straight-up indie-rock and into Fleet Foxes-like fuzzy thunder and harmony.

The end result is that When We Were Wild is the kind of album that drops the jaw of any power-pop (or roots-rock, for that matter) fanatic straight to the floor. It’s the album I know I hoped for when I first bought the hype around bands like The Thrills, wondering if at last there’d be something to cover that middle ground between the sunshiny California pop and rootsy Western rock — The Orbans have finally spanned that gap, and they’ve pretty well burned the bridge behind ’em, too.

Feature photo by Arden Prucha.

[The Orbans are playing 12/30/10 at Walter’s on Washington, along with The Literary Greats.]
(Sheffield Avenue Projects; The Orbans --
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Review by . Review posted Thursday, December 30th, 2010. Filed under Features, Reviews.

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3 Responses to “The Orbans, When We Were Wild

  1. SPACE CITY ROCK » Yr. (Pre-)Weekend: The Small Sounds + The Orbans (Reviewed!) + The Literary Greats + Soul Asylum + More on December 30th, 2010 at 4:59 pm

    […] And sadly, after finally getting ’round to listening to Fort Worth-dwelling openers The Orbans, I have to say that I’m leaning towards the show at Walter’s. The band’s album When We Were Wild has practically soared up towards the top of my personal top-10 of this past year, I swear. Check out the full review over here. […]

  2. Steven Higginbotham on January 20th, 2011 at 2:21 pm

    Amen. This is a great album, only surpassed by their live performance. They will be playing Walters on Washington on Friday, February 18th. Opening are locals Featherface and us, The Wheel Workers, who will be releasing our CD that evening.

  3. SPACE CITY ROCK » The Literary Greats Finally Bring Black Blizzard to the World, Thursday on June 22nd, 2013 at 10:24 pm

    […] hey, glancing back at my own review of the disc, lo and behold, I compared ‘em to — yep, no lie — The Literary Greats. I’m […]

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