Orenda Fink has been a freewheeling musical spirit since the disbanding of Azure Ray in 2004, having in the years since released a solo CD, a CD with a project called Art in Manila, and, now, an album as the group O+S. This one is recorded with bassist Cedric LeMoyne, formerly of the band Remy Zero, and an old friend, performing under the name Scalpelist (thus O+S). The basic idea here was to take field recordings from around the world, turn them into loops and beats that could be incorporated into songs, and see what happens.
Now I don’t know about you but when I hear about songs using loops and beats I tend to pull my head back into my shell and wait for something that sounds like an instrument to come into earshot. Fortunately, despite the splicey nature of the underlying structure, O+S from the start was aiming for more than rhythmic gimmickry. “We listened to a lot of David Lynch soundtracks, 10cc, and old 4AD records,” Fink has said. “I was looking for this balance of light and dark.” The combination of David Lynch and 10cc surely got my head popping back out. And you can hear it right away on “Permanent Scar”–the glitchy beat isn’t established for even 10 seconds when a graceful, almost New Order-y synthed-up guitar line emerges to bring musical order to the landscape. Fink’s vocals are both airy and strong enough to take center stage; once she starts singing, everything going on is built around her, not in spite of her. And everything, on top of the beat, is musical: an elegant keyboard motif comes and goes; ghostly synthesizers float through the background but do so with an actual musical line, not just random atmospherics; after some opening double-tracking, the vocals acquire harmonies that are specific and interesting, not just a wash of sound.
“Permanent Scar” is from the O+S’s self-titled debut album, to be released next week on Saddle Creek Records.