Marty O’Reilly and the Old Soul Orchestra are probably not yet a blip on your radar screen. That should change. If you are the kind of music listener that likes to connect with your music and understand the importance of textured sound, then it is time for you to find these guys. Their new record Stereoscope is due for release on February 9th and some of us have had the opportunity to take some time to dig into and digest it. There has never been a record I’ve heard that would ever cause me to say, “This is my Sgt Pepper.” Hold on, I know, but hear me out. I’ve listened to a lot of bands and I KNOW the weight of what I just wrote, but that is exactly what I thought after about the third or fourth spin. It is a heavy thing to drop that kind of experiential and generational equivalency to perhaps the greatest record of all time to a record made last summer by some guys in Santa Cruz, California but why? Why can’t it be them? Here is how that determination came about:
The first listen was inconsequential. I did it wrong. It was background music to conversations as our headlights wound the Redwood dotted coastal roads home from a show up at Lagunitas Brewing Company. Once home, the album went onto the hi-fi for spins number two and three (maybe even four!). That’s when the thing kicked in. Despite the lateness of the hour, the music was awakening and deep – at times almost trance-like. Learn from my initial mistake, this is music that needs to be heard – you have to sit with it for a bit. If you throw it on for the first time while you’re making dinner and talking through the day with your partner or trying to corral your kids, it’s going to be a bust. It just won’t work. BUTif on that first spin the kids are down, the wine (or BEER) is poured and maybe a joint lit, you’re going to get it. You’ll get the layers and you’ll feel them wrap around you.
This record is a departure from the previous two. It is a true collaboration and testament to the power of this quartet.While past albums saw Marty as the indisputable driving core, this one is different. Stereoscope is a shared labor that announces a new direction and they’re damn proud of it. Proud because it is hard to find something that it sounds like. It is a shapeshifter. Past records could be pinned to Blues, maybe Rock or Gypsy Swing but these songs and this sound is now this band’s own. That is what makes it exciting, that is what makes it a Sgt. Pepper’s level record.
When you listen to an LP and maybe hear elements of something but can’t for the life of you really compare it to anything you’ve ever heard, I don’t know, for me that is the ultimate, it is the white whale to my Ahab. I think a lot of it has to do with the instrumentation here – it is not traditional, it doesn’t fit but it does. Electric and resonator guitars (Marty O’Reilly) punctuated by sometimes staccato fiddle that slices, pierces and saws its way through a song set a top sweepingly psychedelic synth chords (Chris Lynch), this held to the terra with standup bass that can alternatively thump rock rhythms or sway damn near classically when the instrument is bowed (Ben Berry). But the heart of this one is the playing of Matt Goff. This frickin’ kid. He’s the sensitive drummer, the one with intuition. He’s the drummer that plays his kit as an instrument, takes the time to tune his toms and has a bag of percussion tools that augments the textures of the songs already in place.
But the instrumentation and textures never take front and center so much that the lyrics are lost and, just as in the past but perhaps more so now, Marty’s lyrics are as ethereal as the sounds that accompany them: part riddle, part life introspection and part mystery. They’re dreamy one moment and on a turn stinging and angry. Taken as a whole, this is not a rocker of a record (relax, that is NOT to say that there are not rockers on this record – there most certainly are) but this thing swirls, grooves materialize where you don’t expect them too, then it bounces, and it broods and then screams. You’ll hear familiarity one second but realize it is totally different from anything you think you knew. It is art on the level of the greats, it might even redefine or birth a genre. But to “get it” you’re going to have to go all the way and ride the Space Horse before its over.