The Orphins – Drowning Cupid

The Orphins
Drowning Cupid

For a while in the 90s, Polvo cast a long shadow on the independent music scene in the Mid-Atlantic and the South. The Orphins find themselves in the penumbra of that shadow, putting together some interesting, slightly-offbeat tunes on Drowning Cupid that continually keep you guessing.

The album kicks off with “Camp Cryotop,” which begins with an Asian-sounding, sharply plucked guitar. It’s a tone and method of playing that repeats itself occasionally throughout the album. It’s almost as though the band has taken a page from Macha’s songbook and replaced the exotic instrumentation with a regular old guitar. And it somehow works in the context of the music, which can be classified as tuneful post-punk with a little math-rock thrown in here and there.

The ear for melody and their playfulness recall Thinking Fellers Union Local 282. With song titles like “Devilduck,” “A Day in Pompeii,” and “Chinese Prom,” you get the idea that these guys are not taking themselves too seriously. But the confident musicianship belies whatever jokiness the songs titles and the lyrics have you expecting (and what else would you be expecting from a band whose lyrics include “I like to sit / and watch my devilduck / As long as he sits / as long as he stares / I stare back at him”?).

A few of the songs will stick in your head after only a couple of listens. “Crayons in the Cold,” whose (cryptic) chorus “Just like they are connected / to a motor / you can’t stop them / even if you plug your ears,” is instantly catchy. So is the album closer “A Day in Pompeii,” with its backing vocals and its serpentine guitar and bass lines.

The band mixes and juxtaposes styles with ease. The ringing, echoing guitar that carries most of “The Onion” changes to a darker, more menacing tone for the choruses. These transitions are carried off in the same way Geezer Lake was able to do it, but instead of doing it from song to song, it’s done from verse to chorus.

Max McDonough’s drumming keeps things moving along nicely throughout. He keeps things interesting by varying the beat where others might have played a more standard backbeat. Sometimes the phased/flanged guitar becomes a little distracting (it creeps up every now and again), but in general the sound is cohesive and thougthful. A nice debut.