Orchids Grew Here
I’ll level with you, dear listeners: I’m suffering from a nasty bit of food poisoning right now and it’s taken a round out of me. I’m weak, frail, and even the most ordinary of feelings seem just a bit…louder or heavier right now. And as it happens, that sense of vulnerability likely puts me in an ideal position to be listening to and discussing the latest record from longstanding NY darkwave act, Unto Ashes.
Without breaking from the traditions and influences set forth by Michael Laird & co. some twenty-plus years ago, Orchids Grew Here has enough variety and quality to sate die-hards as well as give newcomers a representative understanding of why the group is one of the most beloved acts associated with Projekt Records. You have the tremoring neoclassical sounds which earned their early work comparisons to Dead Can Dance, brooding neofolk, and pieces entirely of Unto Ashes’ own tradition, often combining a wounded frailty with an intimacy which can at times be overwhelming.
In both content and delivery, it’s a listen which ranks with the band’s best work. “Let My Heart Remain Cold” and “Calendar Leaves” have a stoic and strident neofolk approach which acknowledges Death In June on one hand, but also breaks from that tradition by eschewing its miasmas of fog and estrangement, with Laird’s plaintive and direct vocals. Subtle arrangement and production choices bolster things as well; is the room hum captured in the back of the mix of opening track “Even In Our Sleep (Aeschylus)” meant to suggest a quiet stream as the piece begins to accrue more and more layers of dulcimer? Maybe, but either way it adds an earthy dimension to the otherwise gossamer piece.
The enunciation and delivery of Orchids Grew Here‘s themes and lyrics is varied enough to keep things from ever feeling repetitive (though it’s certainly a unified enough listen). There’s certainly something funereal about the icy synths and refrain of “our lovely garden is dying” on “Orchids Fade”, but as Laird, Bret Helm, and Ericah Hagle all intone the titular phrase, there’s almost a sense of morbid or botanical fascination with the procession of the inevitable. As to how a band with those poetics might approach a cover of Madge’s “Frozen”, well, I’ll let you discover that on your own. Set Orchids Grew Here aside for your next John Keats-esque convalescence, but don’t be surprised if it finds its way on even in moments of vigor.