Friday, July 24, 2015

Listen: Oryx & Crake - "Holds Hand For Dry Land"

When last we left Atlanta chamber pop outfit Oryx & Crake they had left me lying in the fetal position after wave after seemingly unceasing wave of their lush, melancholic, synth-laden orchestral pop of their debut album Oryx + Crake. The band were positively delighted by my description of the album as "soulcrushing" but promised that their next venture would be a little more easy to stomach. That was nearly five years ago and true to their word Oryx & Crake have returned. If you were to judge an album by its cover, their sophomore record Marriage with its literal car wreck featured front and center would appear to promise more of the same. But Oryx & Crake aren't torturers nor are their all that tortured - "Holds Hand For Dry Land" sees the band extending an outstretched hand to raise you up and out of their emotional deluge.

"Holds Hand For Dry Land" begins with beats - beats that are positively dance-y before crescendoing synths signal the imminent arrival of the rest of the band. Cue the drums, the synth playfully weave around a grooving bass. "Get up off the floor and open up your crying eyes" Ryan Peoples opens comfortingly - "before they rust shut" the band adds in harmony. It's a moment that wouldn't be all that out of place in say a New Pornographers' song and yet here it is greeting listeners as the first preview of Oryx & Crake's new album. The back and forth persists, a celebratory "woo!" is shouted and it feels like at least to the uninitiated that this is a brand new band and Oryx & Crake have left the unshakeable encroaching gloom behind. But if Oryx + Crake has taught me anything it's constant vigilance, I know this band now. Oryx & Crake are comfortable with the toss and turn between the pleasant and the uncomfortable, making the listener work for those moments of peace at the peak of a downright funereal mountainside.

For all it's fun pantomining, "Holds Hand For Dry Land" holds deeper meaning under the harmonic cheer. It's a song about putting in the work. "We can't just survive off of our wedding cake anymore" Peoples' repeats. Just as your jamming along to the upbeat plod, the floor gives out. The affected mirth is gone. Everything slows down and the darkness percolates and assumes control. The band builds again from the ground up rising to a sort of restrained cacophony that echoes out into eventual silence. Oryx & Crake effectively condense an album's worth of striking mood music into one or two music moments here and it's tremendous. If you fell for their elegantly constructed rouse it's because you need to know the one rule for engaging in Oryx & Crake's emotional minefield: constant vigilance.

"Holds Hand For Dry Land" is a surprising and yet not so surprising turn for the band. The sextet (whittled down from a supporting cast of nine)  are putting their best foot forward and trying on some new looks while still managing to remain true to arguably the most impressive skill in their arsenal: their ability to make you feel. Making a song that's catchy is a skill not everyone can master, true but the far greater feat is creating a song that can do that as well as have meaning behind it. Don't let "Holds Hand For Dry Land" lead you into a false sense of security. Oryx & Crake are tackling some pretty heavy topics on their upcoming sophomore album and the fact that they have the ability to pair those themes with infectious melodies that's as dangerous as it is brilliant.

Oryx & Crake's forthcoming sophomore record Marriage is out 9/25 on Deer Bear Wolf Records.

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