The best way to look at Orpine is that of a super group. The group is made up of Oliver Catt, Fantasy Rainbow, and Eleanor Rudge, The Hundredth Anniversary/Tyrannosaurus Dead/Weird Siblings. Individually they have released some of the most beguiling music in recent years. Combined, however, they have released something that, at times, surpasses their previous efforts. The music is grounded in a traditional singer-songwriter tradition. Acoustic guitars and charming vocal make up the lion’s share of their debut album Grown Ungrown. But fear not, this is not a beige folkie affair, oh no. Throughout there are flourishes of avant-garde and folktronica, but minus the glitchy beats.
The tracks that work the best are the ones where the outside world starts to seep in. Title track ‘Grown Ungrown’ is a prime example of this. The sounds of nature fill in the gaps between lazily finger-picked guitars and gentle crooning vocals. These field recordings ground the songs in a sense of reality. They were not recorded in a static studio, but in a moving, and vibrant, real world. Also, they help set the scene of the song. After ‘Grown Ungrown’ starts, you are immediately transported into a pastoral world. The singing birds tell us that this is a sedate place and Catt’s presence is not unusual. In fact, he is probably a very regular visitor, given how the birds are singing around him. In fairness none of this really matters. All that does matter is how captivating Grown Ungrown is. ‘Two Rivers’ features possibly the lyric of the album. Rudge trills “Easier to be, than to be gone” over sparse percussion, hypnotic guitars, scratchy strings, and a xylophone. The lyric, on one hand, does not really mean very much. It is easier to be than not to be, but on the other hand it taps into a whole train of thought that has plagued us since we got all existential. It seems to be the lyric that Orpine are hinged on. Throughout the album they are fascinated by why we do what we do and, more importantly, what it means to be alive.
Grown Ungrown is a gloriously engaging album. The songs are rich with clever wordplay, backed with sparse instrumentation. At times you feel like you are being sucked into the space between the notes than the music itself. Everything has a very ‘real’ vibe to it. And this is the charm of the album. The songs feel conversational, like you are eavesdropping on private, or at least very personal, moments between two friends who do not see each other very often. Which is true. Rudge and Catt live 300 miles apart and the time they spend together is special. Some of this comes across in the recordings.