Artists On Albums: AOA#39 Andrew Kwasny of Elika on Architecture and Morality

Andrew Kwasny of Elika on…

Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark’s Architecture & Morality (Virgin Records, 1981)

Orchestral Manoeuvers In The Dark - Architecture & Morality

Orchestral Manoeuvers In The Dark – Architecture & Morality

I found Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark a little bit later in life. That’s not to say I didn’t know them. I was familiar with a handful of their hits; “So in Love,” “Electricity,” “Enola Gay,” and of course the young love anthem written for the John Hughes movie Pretty in Pink, “If You Leave.” You would have had to skip over your teenage years not to have felt some kind of kinship with that song. I loved their synth pop sensibilities and the saccharine-sweet melancholia that they could conjure to support the urgency found in those songs.However, even though I enjoyed the sounds they were developing, I always found myself searching for something of a darker nature. I tended to gravitate towards bands that had a bit more of a sinister quality and that could craft songs that sounded more experimental, dangerous, and dirty, but could also slip in catchy hooks without you realizing you were listening to a pop song. Groups like Depeche Mode, The Cure, Joy Division, early New Order and Siouxsie and the Banshees had filled up my CD shelves faster than anything else.

That being said, a few years ago I was on an 80’s kick and wanted to absorb all the things that kind of defined that decade musically. Clearly I am a fan of the music that was being produced during that time period and I was certain that there were gems that I had glossed over. It was such a magical period for synth music. So many bands were coming out at that time trying to evolve or destroy what came before them as well as use the new instruments that were being created to challenge the ideas as to what music could be. Perhaps you didn’t need the traditional rock-n-roll line up of guitars, bass, drums, and vocals to produce a sound that could tell a story, make you move your ass, and touch you emotionally.

I’ve always been a supporter of implementing the new technologies of the day into crafting new music because it’s like dancing on a blade. If it’s done incorrectly it can sound dated and overdone. If done with precision and grace it can sound innovative and timeless. There is a well of 80’s music that may have had the best of intentions but wound up using that one keyboard sound or bass sound that has now tied them to that decade, never to escape, other than through the grace of nostalgia.

I first came across their “Best Of” collection and was thoroughly surprised to hear so many great songs that I had not heard before. It was one of those “Where have you been all my life?” moments and I wanted more. I started collecting their early material and was taken aback at how experimental they could get and how they could deploy some real brooding moments. It wasn’t the poppy OMD I remembered hearing on the radio or seeing on MTV. They seemed to have more in common with Kraftwerk and Joy Division than with the more radio-friendly synth bands that came later, such as The Human League, Alphaville, and A Flock of Seagulls.

When I came across Architecture & Morality I felt like I had finally found the perfect mixture of experimentation, beautiful lush keyboard arrangements and hypnotically powerful vocal melodies all wrapped up in a wonderfully catchy New Wave album that sounded as fresh to me today as I’m sure it did to others back in 1981. I was enthralled with the way they could use electronic instruments on this album and not come across as sounding too robotic. They gave them such a human feel and the breath of romance.

Not being someone who likes to review albums due to the fact that I believe it’s all subjective, please take the following walkthrough with a grain of salt:

The first song on the album is very deceptive of how the rest of the album continues. “The New Stone Age,” with its fast paced guitar strumming, in-and-out erratic keyboard sounds, shouted desperate vocal lines, and underlying creepy backing vocals harkens back to their first two albums and their ties to Factory Records and their Joy Division influence.

The next song on the album “She’s Leaving” gives a truer representation of what the listener is in store for. The lyrics capture the essence of adolescence and the desire to grow up too soon. All the romantic pop elements one could hope for in a song are conveyed in three and a half minutes of synth bliss. A catchy bass line, simple but effective keyboard parts, and Andy McCluskey’s slightly whispered vocals are some of what OMD do best.

“Souvenir,” the third song on the album, is unique on several counts. It’s the only song on the album sung by the keyboard player and founding member, Paul Humphreys, and it was the first single off the album. A mid-tempo song with pretty keyboard lead lines, ethereal background vocals, and personal lyrics sung with just the right amount of vulnerability.

The fourth song, “Sealand”, has some of the best keyboard sounds and textures on the album. It conjures up images of growing up in a working class area close to the sea, but also surrounded by factories and wondering if escape to new lands and adventure are possible. The sounds of mechanic hammering towards the end seem to be a reminder of how industry can have such a heavy hand on pastoral environments.

“Joan of Arc” features expansive underlying reverbed choral melodies, lush keyboards, and those quintessential McCluskey vocals that communicate the urgency and despair found in the lyrical content. The actions of the feminine character are questioned by someone that loves them and they can’t understand that she might need to leave certain comforts, break away from familiar territory, and create her own story whether good or bad. Or it’s about Joan of Arc. Either way, it possesses all the classic required pop elements that make you want to throw caution to the wind and run away with your dreams.

The next song, “Maid of Orleans,” is a continuation on the themes of the previous song, with how far someone will go for love and the sacrifices that they may need to make. Or it’s about Joan of Arc. The marching drum cadence and elegant keyboard lines give you the feeling of travel, exploration, and moving towards a greater future. The emotion in Andy’s vocals is truly one of a kind and would give any teenage girl want for freedom and individuality.

The title song on the album is a collage of mellotron voices, keyboard flourishes, industrial sounds and vocal pads that link OMD to their experimental past as well as to what they will once again touch upon on their 4th album Dazzle Ships.

“Georgia” is another song that gives the listener a taste as to where the band is headed with their sound and how they can deploy light-hearted dance music with emotional integrity and thirst for aural adventure. Not my favorite off the album, but note-worthy in knowing where the rest of the decade is headed and how far ahead they were in those sonic discoveries.

The last song on the album, “The Beginning and the End,” may be the real highlight of the album. It’s an elixir of larger than life keyboards, guitar, and vocal sentimentality that makes it so hard not to like this band. This song seems to take all the other tunes from Architecture & Morality and processes it down to one cathartic heartbeat that makes you want to take the journey all over again.

Architecture & Morality is an album that keeps me wanting to discover new music, new sounds, new lands, more freedom, and to be open to adventure whenever it may present itself. I hope you have an album that does the same.

On a side note, I got to see OMD on their last two tours and was so enthralled by how much fun they were having on stage and how they still haven’t lost that thirst for writing new music and playing their material in front of audiences. Not too many bands make it this long, and those that do can sometimes come across as cashing in on a reunion tour. It gives me hope that there are other groups out there that I haven’t discovered yet that can move me the same way that Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark have.

 Notes On The Artist:

Andrew Kwasny of Elika

Andrew Kwasny of Elika

Andrew Kwasny has been a New York City musician since the mid-nineties. Some of the bands he has backed and fronted are Lethal Post Mortem Syndrum, Alpha Kilo, and All The Ghosts. He can currently be found playing bass, keyboards, and backing vocals with his previous band members, Evagelia Maravelias and Brian Wenckebach, on their long standing project Elika. Together with Khaya Lou from Mahogany, Elika produces sounds with complex programmed rhythms, honey-coated vocals, dreamy synths, driving bass lines, and kaleidoscopic guitars. Their latest 7” release, Girls, Be Serious (one of three 7”), with the songs “Moving Faster” and “Bury,” has been described as wrapping “the listener in a double-tracked cocoon of warmth and emotional hope that this time, love is for real,” and “a taste of dream pop heaven.” Be on the lookout for Girls, Be Serious two and three from Saint Marie Records.