Ormonde – Cartographer/Explorer

Ormonde - Cartographer/Explorer

Ormonde – Cartographer/Explorer

I listened to Cartographer/Explorer and wondered about exactly how I could write about it. Most of the albums I hear and that I write about lend themselves easily to a review article, but Ormonde have given me something to think about with this release. Right from the first minute or so of opening track “Beach” it’s obvious that Robert Gomez and Anna-Lynne Williams are very skilled and practisedly adept musicians, and their combination of carefully arranged keyboards and guitars, and Anna-Lynne’s measuredly ethereal vocal is redolent of Mazzy Star, of the Cocteau Twins, of a host of less well known although equally as well regarded other bands making music in the more ambient areas of the Dreampop world. Certainly, ‘Beach’ convinced me that ‘Cartographer/Explorer’ was an album that I should take the time to both listen to and write about.

Writing this article on a grey Sunday afternoon at the end of October, Cartographer/Explorer suits the darkening evening around me very nearly to perfection. It’s an album that seems almost calculatedly designed for the autumn months, and as second track “A Grand Design” takes a more abrasive tone than its predecessor, the mood slides into something approaching actual gloom as Robert Gomez’s vocal speaks of his separation from the object of his affections, to a backing track that threatens to enter into actual Joy Division territories. Never my favourite band and while I won’t deny their influence, I did begin to fear that Ormonde were going to present me with yet another rewrite of “Unknown Pleasures”.

They don’t, although the Darkwave is never far from Ormonde’s music. Third track “Collapse” would sound a lot less interesting without the keening guitar part, sounding like a harpsichord run through a delay pedal that brings a perceptible archness to the song and which Anna-Lynne phrases her vocal against with no small amount of ability. The phased guitar cuts through the track like a sudden gust of winter chill and adds a keening edge to what is a quite simplistic melody, and whether or not I or anyone else is or isn’t a bit of a Gothic type, Ormonde are undeniably skilled enough to soften the more metallic aspects of their songs with some finely handled instrumentation.

As the album progresses, I began to realise what I was finding difficulty with, despite the obvious abilities in Ormonde’s songwriting and playing and that is in the timing of the songs, which with one exception (the alt. folksy electronica of “Snake”) are taken at about 80BPM which, when I noticed that, I found a bit distracting. This made the grimy harmonies of “Strange Wind”, the undulating progressions of “Fast Forward” and the elegiac synth runs of ‘Bled Out’ less enjoyable than I probably would have found them had Ormonde varied the speed of things somewhat, which they quite probably could have done without losing much in the way of effect.

I know that what I’ve written sounds more critical than I intended and that Ormonde and their second album deserve a more enthusiastic response from reviewers such as myself but, when you’ve put so much into your music, why forget that varying the tempo can help those songs tell their stories a lot more effectively. Ormonde are certainly virtuosos of the electronica world and obviously took a lot of care in their recordings so perhaps they’ve set those similarly paced rhythms on purpose, to mystify their listeners just that little bit more. I think we should allow them that.

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