This is a review of "Force Of Habit" recorded by The Dead Orchestra. The review was written by Jessica Thornsby in 2009.
Following on from their untitled first EP, West Yorkshire four-piece The Dead Orchestra release another four tracks of indie-pop, string arrangements and shiver-inducing synths.
EP highlight is 'Not The Man,' a trip through glacial, pop-infused highs that's truly affecting - and it packs an unforgettable chorus to boot.
Like most The Dead Orchestra songs, 'Not The Man' evolves from humble beginnings, into a full-blown synth-pop symphony. It whispers to life with a simple, sparkly acoustic refrain and sublime main vocals that waft across expansive "aaaaaaaah-aaaaaaah" backing harmonies. But it's with the chorus that The Dead Orchestra really excel. Here, the main vocals pick out a woozy, sorrowful, but surprising poppy rhythm, that's simply irresistible. But it doesn't end there, as The Dead Orchestra put a cutting edge on that already-affecting chorus, with lashings of wailing strings. And, again, it gets even better; after a brief, brooding interlude, The Dead Orchestra pull out all the stops and layers of reverberating cello propel 'Not The Man' to a heady end-section. A beautiful blast of icy-cool synth-pop.
Also a highlight, is EP-opener 'Death Of Me.' Its string sections may be hit or miss, but thankfully the balance is 50/50. The misses, come when 'Death Of Me's twangy indie-rock guitars and clucking percussion tumbles unexpectedly into shrieky and over-dramatic orchestral arrangements. The arctic-wind synths that howl through the verses, also feel grafted-on. Fortunately, the mid-verse strings are more carefully worked into the main body of the song. They're less harsh, and accentuate the melody that's already present, rather than blare over the top of it.
Towards the end of the song, The Dead Orchestra hit the listener with a double-whammy of chiming harps and bristling riffs, in an interesting combination that falls frustratingly short of the mark. Perhaps if that very prominent harp was set a little lower in the mix, the electric guitar and the string arrangements might feel like they had slightly more to do with one another.
'Death Of Me' doesn't always work, but The Dead Orchestra have a unique take on synth-pop, and for every time the indie-pop and operatic sides of their sound don't quite gel, there's an occasion where they come together brilliantly.
The other two songs, 'Trapped On The Outside' and 'Way I Feel' have a more upbeat take on The Dead Orchestra sound, to mixed effect. Despite the maudlin lyrics, 'Trapped On The Outside's ticking percussion keeps the song knocking along at a fair old pace, and that pace leaches the wailing strings and downbeat piano of their emotional impact. The vocals are also a sticking point, as the chorus is constructed like your regular anthemic-indie chorus. However, frontman Tom O'Keefe doesn't have the clout to go for those big notes the chorus is crying out for. 'Trapped On The Outside' isn't The Dead Orchestra's strongest moment.
'Way I Feel's funky foundations of stylishly lurching drums, accented by bone-popping bass beats, will initially have you unsure, especially since it's sprinkled with spine-tingling, but seemingly random, harp-plucking. However, it all begins to make sense when the chorus kicks in. Here, that strangely groovy underlying beat gains both a trudging edge and a sprinkling of glacial sound effects that are classic The Dead Orchestra. The result is a glittering, icy-hearted march, with vocals that bring a dash of pop to proceedings. It's a bleakly beautiful chorus and, although 'Way I Feel' is noticeably short on orchestral flourishes, it proves that The Dead Orchestra aren't a tacked-on-strings gimmick: their song writing skills are strong enough to stand alone, without all the fancy string arrangements. Not in the same league as 'Death Of Me' or 'Not The Man,' this is a strong indie-rock song, all the same.
The Dead Orchestra's ice-cold take on synth-pop, is an attention-grabbing one, and that's before you factor in the lush string arrangements. Occasionally, the orchestral flourishes feel shrieky and tacked-on, but these are balanced out by the times they feel perfectly worked into the main body of the songs. When The Dead Orchestra manage to mould the synth-pop, orchestral, and indie-rock elements of their sound into a coherent whole, they're emotionally-wrenching, unique, and guaranteed to give you goosebumps. Now, they just need to work on ensuring that the joins where those different elements come together, are never audible to the listener.