Artist: The Blue Orchids
Album: The Once and Future Thing, Awefull, The Battle of Twisted Heel
Label: Tiny Global Productions
Release Date: 06/03/2016
Martin Bramah didn’t stick around long after the Fall’s 1979 debut LP, Live at the Witch Trials, hit the streets.
In the Blue Orchids, the band he formed after leaving the curmudgeonly Mark E. Smith and his revolving-door outfit of post-punk provocateurs behind, the shamanistic Bramah found a new vehicle for his ingenious guitar schemes and arty songwriting. Having replaced some parts, it’s still in good running order.
Accompanied by a smattering of essential archival releases, The Once and Future Thing is the first new album from Bramah’s Blue Orchids in seemingly ages, and it is brilliant, bristling with skewed creative tension from start to finish. Serrated guitars and an off-kilter melody spark a rambunctious riot in “Iron Tree,” while the swaggering, bare-knuckled brawler “Good Day to Live” is full of gritty bravado and “Whisky Burn” revels in its drunken glory. In a display of disparate artistry, pop flowers blossom throughout “Jam Today,” a bright, spirited “August Rebels” howls with poetic fervor and expansive vocals spread across the lovely topography of “Feather From the Sun,” with its skittering guitar and dry, throbbing dub interludes.
As if that weren’t enough, a double CD of ’80s live material is on its way, too, paired with a Bramah solo effort, heretofore unavailable, called The Battle of Twisted Heel. Eclectic and woodsy, and now restored to print, the latter work wanders gracefully through the Robyn Hitchcock-inspired, psych-folk pathways of “The Fall of Great Britain,” “I-Super Real” and “It’ll Be Night Soon” and traipses through the Renaissance fair that is “Coming Forth By Day.”
And then, there’s Awefull, which gathers the Blue Orchids’ non-LP Rough Trade ephemera and other rarities, including demos of “The Unknown,” with its silvery synths and slippery bass hyperactivity, and “Sleepy Town,” a sunny gem. Moody and reminiscent of Public Image Ltd., the creepy “Work,” a haunting “Conscience” and the stabbing, frenzied march “The House That Faded Out” are testaments to Bramah’s ability to masterfully turn conventional songcraft inside out and make something nuanced, subversive and oddly compelling from monotone vocals, quirky hooks, crazed organs and basic rock ‘n’ roll.
– Peter Lindblad