Voices and Organs
he debut album from Voices and Organs, Orphanage aspires to be grand and sweeping, yet tiny and restrained. Taking musical hints from Sigur Ros and literary ones from Raymond Carver, the group uses excerpted passages from its own short stories to compile a concept album on childhood (primarily its struggles). This undertaking could be a disaster, but the Per Lindmark group pulls off a solid album, even if not the concept.
Oddly, for an album that grew out of fiction writing, Orphanage's production does little to aid the vocals. The voices stay mixed so low that you can't just have the music on, you have to listen attentively to catch them (and even then it's a struggle). Under some circumstances, the soft vocals could be detached from their literal content and heard as a part of the sound; while that's not exactly untrue, it seems counterintuitive to remove meaning from material offered as, at least in snippet form, narrative. That the pieces lack verses and choruses, the prose words (whether spoken or sung) carry a hint of suggestion that their soft presentation can't hold.
Voices and Organs don't wish to rely entirely on their words, and each track on the album suggests either a child or a mood. The album gains strength by avoiding both woozy nostalgia and lifelong disenchantment, turning instead to complicated depictions of a cross-section of an orphanage. No one here (if we can call these pieces people) jumps with joy, but the group captures optimism among its rainy-ness. With few exceptions ("Screamer" being one), the music delivers gradual mood changes, one track moving smoothly into the next and building feelings through shifts in color and intensity. That style makes for nice musical art, but it has little to do with childhood, which is full of manic changes, tears and smiles, and conflicting personalities (all within each tot). I'd assume a orphanage doesn't alleviate these fluctuations, although the closest I've come to being an orphan was playing Boy on Street in A Christmas Carol (and his parentage is just more unknown than non-existent).
Beyond the shortcomings of the concept, Orphanage does make for a nice listen. That sense of precipitation serves the disc well, allowing the band to move from the bedroom-in-the-dark to the city-street-at-Christmas with only a slight drop in temperature to turn the rain into twinkling snow. The effect comes through a combination of acoustic and electronic instruments. Voices and Organs have that Icelandic band as an influence, but they never strive for that scope. Instead they turn only inward, relying on precision depictions, a child hugging himself rather than a Hopelander straining to embrace the globe. The production matches that vision, mixing in crackles and static to remove each piece's sheen so that the frayed cuffs can show themselves without embarrassment or pride.
The concept, in the end, is more talk than execution, and the recording itself is more pluck than elocution. Even so, the musical vision of Voices and Organs largely holds up. The group hasn't composed masterpieces, but little, only partially-expressed statements, which speaks as much to childhood as anything would.