Orphans & Vandals – I am Alive and You are Dead Orphans & Vandals – I am Alive and You are Dead

Orphans & Vandals - I am Alive and You are Dead

Orphans & Vandals - I am Alive and You are Dead

(Scruffy-haired wiry English twenty-something stumbles out onto a busy sidewalk. Pulls coat tighter around himself upon seeing falling snow for the first time that day.)
“Well did I come out to buy a packet of cigarettes? Oh no wait, I quit years ago.”
(Strings start to swell. Kick drum becomes more insistent. Camera begins to slowly pan out. Twenty-something is locked in place, starts anxiously looking around.)
“Or to pick up a magazine, check out a movie or the music scene, world affairs? No.”
(Strings begin to flurry nervously above the percussion as camera zooms farther out. Pedestrians hustle by the twenty-something from both directions, heads down, hands holding their hats, as he remains standing in the center of the frame, snow swirling around the entire scene.)
“I… can’t remember… can’t remember…”

That twenty something is Al Joshua, singer and guitarist for Orphans & Vandals, one of the most incredible bands I’ve ever heard. The short of it is that they’re a pop-rock band with two violin/bell-kit players and a long-winded singer with conversational and journalistic (and often impressionistic) lyrics. The long of it is that their debut album I am Alive and You are Dead is its own world, gorgeous and perverted, delicate and unrelenting, often reducing me (typically a closed-minded and dismissive motherfucker) to gross mushy descriptors like “discreetly epic” or “cinematically brilliant” or “mortally transcendent.”

All right, here’s the deal. There are the modest classic records (Elvis Costello’s This Year’s Model, The Jesus Lizard’s Goat) and there are the BIG classics (Daydream Nation, OK Computer). This album is the latter. While its instrumentation and production is sparse and efficient, its scope spans about a dozen years in time, several nations worth of geography, and just about every possible human emotion. The songs are like conversations between Joshua and the band, the music egging him on to reveal the more sinister details or comforting him in moments of despondence. And he’s more than happy to oblige, hazily recounting failed attempts at escape and sexual misadventures in a breathless, bewildered half-singing voice. “You know when I was fourteen years old I slept with a boy who was twenty-one. And out of the clear blue sky the other day I ran into a mutual friend who told me he’s dead and gone.” “I don’t want to go to bed with you/ I just want to stay up all night with you.” “The girl who fucks like a bucket is coming on like a snowball.” Verses seem to shift into choruses only when the conversation calls for it. These songs are fucking living things. And no matter how blunt, deviant, or awkwardly scatterbrained Joshua’s yarns become, the band’s grace and persistence effectively stitch the narratives into a gorgeous and grandiose backdrop, setting the scene and filling in the missed details (refer to the opening of this review). Seriously, one the most beautiful moments of this record happens while Joshua sings, “When he finally came, he came all over me.”

Orphans & Vandals’ songs can be sprawling and fragile, as on “Mysterious Skin” and “Terra Firma,” beating heavyweights like Arcade Fire and Sufjan Stevens at their own game, or damn near walloping and just downright cool, as on the opener “Strays” and the absurdly incredible “Metropes.” Here’s the deal, this album was released (perhaps only in Europe?) towards the beginning of this year, but I’m willing to completely emasculate myself via music review because of how good and criminally neglected it is. Whatever lists you’ve been working on to wrap up 2009, leave room at the fucking top for this one.

Track Listing:
1. Strays
2. Mysterious Skin
3. Argyle Square
4. Liquor On Sunday
5. Incognito
6. Metropes
7. Christopher
8. Terra Firma
9. Head On With Tears

Orphans & Vandals - I am Alive and You are Dead , reviewed by Squeri on 2009-12-14T11:14:38-08:00 rating 4.7 out of 5

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