Orcas (Benoît Pioulard and Rafael Anton Irisarri) drift lightly with sun drenched melodies and thoughtful songs. Their sophomore Yearling is an album awash with songs, individual personalities that haunt the music with their full-bodied structure. The phrases are purposeful, energetic and sanguine as they sit in the late sun. Their music is a hazy blend of ambient drift and subdued pop that, while calm, still manages to shift gears and send shockwaves of static electricity through the music. Their track ‘Until Then’ is a classic example; the ambient tint is there, carried by its breezy poetry and lyrical vulnerability, but then it distorts beyond belief and the track shrivels up.
Yearling introduces Martyn Heyne of Efterklang on guitar and piano, and Michael Lerner of Telekinesis on the drums, both of which are fine additions. Orca’s music is susceptible to the draught, wispy in sound, bordering on the ethereal. You get the feeling the music could vanish without a trace at any point, leaving you with only heartfelt musings and a sense of desolate emptiness. Their sophomore is a brighter shade, but the colour fades. It settles in the late afternoon / early dusk and sleepily flirts with the end of the day. The drums kick the music forward, reinvigorating the failing light. Bright n’ breezy guitar lines support the vocal, fulfilling their original intention. The flow is gentle, giving off warm vibes. The structure makes it a song instead of a lengthy improvisation, with hazy guitar swells and ambient swirls interspersing between the verses and acting as the bridge over troubled waters.
Their debut album was largely built from guitar improvisations and impromptu vocal sessions, but Yearling ditches the short, slim bursts for a prolonged burn, and its creative spark is brighter than before. Constructed from short pieces and thoughts that Pioulard wrote and then developed during the summer of 2012, Yearling has a strong lyrical body that draws its energy from the pages and the period in question. 365 days can give you a lot of material. Orcas have translated and then transcribed the emotional encounters, turning months into minutes.
It is largely upbeat, which could be due to the gentle sway of the drum. The drums play a pivotal role, for without them the music would stray into ambient drone. There is a subtle shade to the percussive optimism, punctuated by static and the last smiles and goodbyes recorded onto a reel of crinkling tape as on the song ‘Selah’. The melody echoes, not just delaying but bleeding into the strict rhythmic pattern of the drum. The drumming may be tight, but the slow, chilled tempo lets the beat cool down. It changes course a little later with the addition of a lighter beat that swirls in reverse, but the mood is casual.
The slightly wonky ‘Half Light’ is a pillow of turbulence, cradled in the hands of an open vocal. The melody would be lilting if it were not for its rough sandpaper, and it lets a thin, haunting atmosphere creep in. The undulating pads sit beneath the sparse tones, camouflaged as harmonics, floating like lily pads on a lake. The tranquility is there, though it doesn’t stay for long. Sometimes, the kindest moments are the shortest, and it’s incredibly rare to find some peace in a pop-oriented song.
‘An Absolute’ is lower in tone. Like running outside at the sound of the ice cream van only to find yourself short on coins, and then to later see the same van a victim to the heat, broken down, with its once vanilla light melody now wavering in pitch, it leaves the sour aftertaste of disappointment behind, not just with the situation but with the suburban world.
The coda ‘Tell’ is left to ponder the summer, glowing, luminescent. The drums have faded, leaving only a static wash of ambience. The vocal, which is sung softly throughout, reminds you of the summer – of temperate, tanned evenings that are awash with a generous afterglow, the tangerine-peach burn that sizzles against the blue line of the ocean; a summer that came and went, disappearing into the past like a trailing, washed-out note, turning a lake-blue colour as it cools.