What could be the chimes of an ice-cream van distort, sour and die. So begins Orphan Boy’s Coastal Tones, an album primarily concerned with the way the weight of reality crushes down upon dreams. Glimpses of hope and warmth shine throughout, but on the whole this is a record that deals maturely and effectively with the towering pain of melancholy.
Whenever a band uses a layered sound to deal with heartbreak and loneliness they’re going to be compared to The Smiths, and indeed the influence of Morrissey and Marr is visible throughout Coastal Tones, most notably on the semi-spoken word breakdown of Beats Like Distant Tides and the Asleep-esque opening strains of Transpennine.
But, luckily, the debt the band owe to The Smiths isn’t significant enough to impede enjoyment of tracks like the rousing Money To Money. Lead singer Rob Cross has a distinctive and powerful voice, one that can climb the registers in a pristine and pretty way without ever feeling overly polished or calculated. He sounds best on Sunken Hearts, a track that also boasts the album’s strongest lyrical content.
Things do occasionally feel slightly too slick, however. Despite featuring another impressive vocal performance from Cross, On A Nelson Skyline lacks the rough edges that complexity that mark out the album’s other tracks for praise. The guitar solo that sits at the centre of the song comes to feel a little perfunctory too – a criticism that could also be levelled at the instrumental break on Clover, a song that builds to a climax that is all too predictable.
But, when the band are on form, they nail something pretty special: album closer Thirtysomething Lovesick Ballad boasts the finest lyrics of the album, closing out the record on a high. “Spent the entire day watching Zulu and just burning matches by the window” Cross deadpans, providing a powerful glimpse into the blistering mundanity of depression.
With their intelligence and keen knack for capturing the horrors and joys of every-day life, Orphan Boy have turned in a singularly impressive work. Although they take a few minor missteps on the way, on the whole, they manage that oh so difficult feat: they’ve turned in an album that will make you feel good about feeling bad.