The Oranges Band: The Oranges Band Are Invisible
"Do you remember Memory Lane?" The question is the titular chorus line in a three-and-half-minute sonic defibrillation, and the fact that you're not sure if it's asking you if you recall the mid-'90s West Baltimore rock club or if you were there but far too drunk to remember it perfectly captures the blithe reinvigoration of the Oranges Band and vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Roman Kuebler on the quartet's latest release. The Oranges Band Are Invisible is the group's third proper long-player and first since its former label, Lookout!, started halting new releases in 2005, after the band last appeared with The World and Everything in It. Kuebler, the Roads to Space Travel veteran and former Spoon member, and drummer Dave Voyles formed the Oranges Band in 2000, and ever since have been Baltimore's almost stereotypically 1990s indie-rock outfit. In its various lineup changes, from trio to quintet, the Oranges have remained competently capable of crafting instantly hummable pop-rock rife with jittery guitars, skittish backbeats, and choruses you've memorized by the second time they come around and forget about 10 seconds into the next song.
Of course, the 2000s have witnessed the explosion of just about every hybridized form of underground rock imaginable--thanks in large parts to a music-making generation running around with digital versions of the past half-century of rock, pop, dance, funk, soul, hip-hop, etc., on mp3 players that fit in a back pocket--every style, that is, save '90s indie rock. In fact, indie itself has become more a qualifying genre adjective than a statement of fact. When it once used to convey a band's modest (to nonexistent) economic backing and general attitude toward the so-called music industry--as in: make music, have fun, don't turn into an asshole--these days "indie" is regarded as a de facto, if nebulous, genre, a word that carries as much negative baggage as it does marketing info.
With Invisible the Oranges look back to a time before viral marketing took hold of indie rock, and very specifically recalls the mid-'90s Baltimore of the aforementioned Memory Lane nightclub, the first incarnation of the Ottobar, and Gordon's Nightclub. (All three are mentioned in song titles here.) So, yes, Invisible is a bit nostalgic, but not rosily so--Kuebler isn't fondly looking back to recall how much better it was then than now, but merely pointing out the obvious: that bands and "music scenes" have histories.
And distilling the past into song has kicked the Oranges--now a quartet of bassist Patrick Martin and ex-Guided By Voices/Cobra Verde guitarist Doug Gillard--into an ornery beast, especially Kuebler. He riddles his lyrics with in-joke allusions, underhanded compliments, and outright sarcasm, and the dense wordplay suits him like an old pair of jeans. In the outright bitch-slap "ArtStar," Kuebler fires off a poison dart that perfectly hits its mark: "You had all the ambition but you didn't go to art school for the competition/ They want to be known by everyone and shown by everyone and blown by everyone/ All you want to know is what everyone knows/ You only want to go where everyone goes/ But now you want to go home."
Even better is "When Your Mask Is Your Revealing Feature," a dash of unbridled joy. With Abby Mott, Shawna Potter, and Mandy Koch providing the breathy female backing vocals, Kuebler sotto voce sings over an outright funky strut that outstrips Vampire Weekend at its own post-punk game, and without the insufferable smug winsomeness. Invisible doesn't officially come out until next February, but a limited edition is available this week at the Oranges Band's pre-release show.