March 06, 2002

Blue Orchids "A Darker Bloom"

Ah, nostalga! With the recent explosion of interest in all things Factory Records/Manchester post-punk, man bands are being resurrected from the dustbin. Some of these bands are great, some of them aren't, but all of them have that whole "underground mass media" buzzwords plastered ALL OVER THEM, and shite like Interpol have created a career on resurrecting and regurgitating these sounds. Who is worthy, who isn't? you might ask...well, you need to make your own decisions on that. I'm just here to tell you what I feels.

Blue Orchids were a band that, while not Factory-made, were certainly of that currently-hip era. Martin Bramah (who is among the first of thousands of people to be labeled "ex-Fall") put together Blue Orchids in 1980 with keyboardist Una Baines. Their first single, "Disney Boys" c/w "The Flood" was, is, and evermore shall be A STUNNER. "Disney Boys," with a crushing yet hypnotic synth beat and Bramah's mushy yet hyperactive, amphetamine-driven singing, indeed sounded like nothing going on at the time. Indeed, "Disney Boys" still sounds like nothing else, even if his vocals do have a bit of Rotten tinge. "The Flood" is an odd mix of weird chants, keyboards, proto-samples, and THAT VOICE. By their second single, "Work" (the weirdest-sounding anthem you'll hear) c/w "The House That Faded Out," Blue Orchids had turned into an even more interesting band, with dark atmospheres that mix with all the odd elements previously mentioned, creating a sound that really, truly, is unclassifiable.

Their sole album, The Greatest Hit, was a WONDERFUL mix of sounds that at times sounds both dated and innovative. Twenty-one years later, they STILL do not fit into any easy pigeonholes. Punk, goth, post-punk, new-wave, synth pop, jazz, pop--you could easily make a case that Blue Orchids were that style, but you'd have to quickly rethink that case by the time you come to the next track! Use any one of the album's tracks (most of which are here, by the way) and you'll realize that Blue Orchids had many ideas flowing at once, often overlapping each other, and instead of making a mess, it all works nicely.

It was about this time that Blue Orchids joined forces with the Ice Goddess herself, Nico. Talk about a perfect couple! They served as her touring band, and their EP, Agents of Change, certainly shows her influence. The songs aren't as varied stylistically, but they do have her dark shadow of cold, detatched jazz. The wind-swept "Conscience" is my favorite, though all four of these songs are excellent, and you could easily imagine Nico singing these numbers--take one listen to Agents of Change, and then listen to Camera Obscura. They could have made beautiful music in the studio, were it not for the drugs and, uh, her death!

Bands don't last forever, though, and shortly after Agents of Change, Blue Orchids quietly folded, appearing once again in 1985 with a merely OK single,"Sleepy Town." They attempted a comeback in 1991, which produced two great singles and an unreleased album, but it didn't last. By this time, though, their sound had drifted into a light, pleasant, yet intelligent pop, reminiscent of bands like Frazier Chorus--nice and jazzy, but a far, far cry from those dangerous sounds ten years previous. Perhaps it is this shocking change that held back Blue Orchids; the fanbase, loyal to the "Disney Boys" sound, were probably shocked to hear such an abrupt change in style. "Out Of Sight," the final track on A Darker Bloom sounds so different, you could easily think that this was a mistake that was made at the pressing plant. It doesn't mean, though, that it's a bad song; in fact, Blue Orchids probably could have rejuvinated their career had they carried on.

A Darker Bloom is, for the most part, a singles compilation, though it also contains all but two of the songs from their lone LP, The Greatest Hit. This fits in well with LTM's current reissue program--From Severe to Serene, an odds and sods collection of live track and Peel Sessions, as well as their long-lost 1991 album, The Sleeper. I'll admit that it took me a listen or two to really get into their sound, but after I did, I've enjoyed every minute of it. A Darker Bloom certainly makes a case for a revision of Blue Orchids' past, and with this renewed interest, who knows what the future might bring?

--Joseph Kyle

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