Orca-stral Manoeuvres In the Dark
Being a long time fan of Gus Dapperton’s work, I was very underwhelmed by just how safe this bedroom pop trailblazer played it with his debut album Where Polly People Go To Read last year. It felt like he had made the album that people had expected him to make, with colourful songs, a myriad of dance beats and sparkly synthesisers, but on the whole the project left me with very little substance to dive into.
A year later, Dapperton’s second effort, Orca, is here. I loved the singles so much I thought I had set the bar too high. I thought I had hyped this record up to myself too much, and that I would once again feel deflated.
That is NOT the case.
Orca is the album I’ve always wanted Dapperton to make, whether I realised it or not. Raw, honest lyricism blended with intimate acoustic guitars, charming piano work and driving bass. The intimacy and personal nature of the record is so profound that every track feels like Dapperton is sat next to me with his guitar.
(Bottle) Opener ‘Bottle Opener’ is a sweet slice of cheerful (on the surface) indie pop. Dapperton wears his feelings on his sleeve, being open about his struggles with mental health:
"You never let them get to you
I always let them get to me
I don't know if I'll last until tomorrow
It's such an arduous task to always bottle it up"
Immediately we know that Orca is going to cut the shit; an artist at their rawest and most open. Throughout the runtime we can hear Dapperton’s pain, as his typically smooth voice shatters, cracking up into a powerful scream. ‘First Aid’ (as we reviewed it back in April) still sounds excellently produced, staying minimal with its production but still feeling well realised and full, with subtle additions of xylophone serving their purpose without feeling cheesy. ‘Medicine’ seemingly references Dapperton’s addiction to the aftermath of negative events, hence him repeating these events so he can feel the "medicine", all while his voice becomes more and more broken as the texture thickens.
Closer ‘Swan Song’ seems to be the result of all of Dapperton’s favourite elements of Orca. Smooth beats, piano, acoustic guitar and some gorgeous harmonies, but despite the darkness of so many tracks, Dapperton still treats us with moments of danceable songwriting too. ‘Post Humorous’ and ‘Bluebird’ will have crowds BOUNCING when gigs are a thing again. and in particular ‘Post Humorous’ stands out as a truly wonderful track. Describing the loss of a relative throughout this cut, Dapperton's delivery is heartbreaking, but the music juxtaposes with it. The riff is sparkly and poppy, drums build into massive choruses and the acoustic guitar adds even more subtly percussive layers.
‘Palms’ is another dance-orientated cut but still retains the calmness of so many of these tracks. ‘My Say So’, featuring Chela, is okay but doesn’t feel as though it adds that much to the rest of the album on a wider scale. This could also be said for ‘Antidote’, a slow burning mid tempo track. Despite this, the songs are still good, but when compared to the rest of the tracklist are clearly weaker.
Orca feels like his answer to Clairo's Immunity. Both Gus Dapperton and Clairo proved frontrunners in the 2010s bedroom-pop craze, and both of their endeavours into soft rock and indie could potentially see a huge shift in the landscape of alternative and underground music. Orca is the best ‘indie’ record I’ve heard in a long while. There is no sugarcoating, no unnecessary production, no forced songwriting to get radio play. It is essentially a diary, and the end result is the listener empathising with Dapperton, and feeling like they have a connection with someone they’ve never met. The lyrics are relatable without being cliched, something so many songwriters strive for but rarely achieve. With this record, Dapperton has proved himself as more than just a trend, and has cemented himself as one of the most talented artists in the indie community right now. If you haven’t listened to this album yet, what are you doing?
- 7.8 -
'First Aid', 'Post Humorous', 'Swan Song'
James Mellen is currently studying as a guitarist and producer based near Bristol. Interests include silly effects pedals, Yorkshire tea and 100 gecs. Thanks for reading! Slow Motion Panic Masters is a music, arts and culture blog created and edited by Ben Wheadon, a literature student and musician based at the University of Oxford. He is also a Fleet Foxes shill.
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