A shoo-in to succeed the Bay Area rock throne long left vacant by Steve-Perry-era Journey, Oranger is a band whose career to date has been punctuated by critical success and a highly enviable tour history. As Oranger releases its 4th full-length, New Comes and Goes, the band discovers it’s at its strongest when it does what it knows best—playing rock music irreverent of time and place. The following is a little history to put these rock stars into human perspective.
In 1997, both guitarist/vocalist Mike Drake and bassist/vocalist Matt Harris shared a bit of band-less malaise after a stint with pop/punk outfit Overwhelming Colorfast. Drake and Harris soon found the perfect complement to their duo, and a near replica of Sesame Street’s Animal, in drummer Jim Lindsay. Oranger was born.
A year later, Oranger released the self-produced Doorway To Norway on Pray For Mojo (later to be re-released on Amazing Grease). Over the next year and a half the band amassed a devout hometown following with strong songwriting and the added help of Lindsay’s notorious onstage antics and guerrilla attacks on the drums. In 1999, Oranger introduced itself to all of California as the support band for Pavement. By the end of 2000, the band had completed a West Coast jaunt with 16 Deluxe and a European support slot for Elliot Smith, virtually cementing Oranger’s standing at the very least as “a band’s band.” One thing was clear: even if you didn’t like Oranger’s music, you sure did enjoy the band’s company.
Oranger was joined by keyboardist Patrick Main (the Snowmen) in 2001. That same year the second full-length, The Quiet Vibrationland, was released on Scott Kannberg’s (Spiral Stairs from Pavement) Amazing Grease label. A rant and rave of psychedelia through millennial colored lenses, the record was speckled with such campfire gems as, “View Of The City From An Airplane,” “Texas Snow,” and “Collapsed In The Superdome.” Kids and critics alike sang praises in perfect pitch. By the year’s end, the band had released and toured the record in the UK for the Poptones label, and had cut rugs across the Midwest with Ohioan heroes, Guided By Voices.
The success of Vibrationland drove the band members fast into the seclusion of their home studio for more recording and experimentation. More than a year of fiddling around led to the massive double disc release, Shutdown the Sun (Jackpine Social Club). A 34 track companion disc, From the Ashes of Electric Elves, was also included with the first 5000 copies of Shutdown. The album garnered unanimous critical praise as a well-realized experimental pop romp across the sunny California landscape. Pitchfork raved that the band elicited, “thick ocean breezes, cloudless skies, and California languor into every note they play, creating an album that’s as appealing as it is light.” Fans the world over sought after the companion disc for its playful overview of more than four years of experimental outtakes.
Leap years seem always to breed change, and for Oranger, 2004 was no exception. First, the band put a couple of exclamatory notches in its tour belt, supporting Apples in Stereo early in the year, and playing summer dates in Dublin, Ireland and Manchester, England with a band called REM. The band was also asked by the Los Angeles Film Festival to compose and perform an original score for Dziga Vertov’s 1929 film The Man With the Movie Camera.
But, around the same time, original drummer Jim Lindsay left the band to pursue his more than one hundred other projects. The band added two new musicians to the lineup: drummer John Hofer (Mother Hips, Persephone’s Bees, Kelley Stoltz) and Overwhelming Colorfast leader and longtime friend Bob Reed on guitar. The new Oranger quintet was now poised to enter the studio in early 2005.
The recording of New Comes and Goes took place over a two-week span in January 2005, a far cry from the marathon process of Shutdown. Drake recalls, “We wanted this record to be opposite the last record. We decided to give ourselves 10 days to record and mix the whole record. We wanted to try getting the tunes down before we sucked the life out of them.” The band hit the studio after only a few rehearsals. The lyrics were still being drafted during the vocal sessions. The strategy was to make an immediate and direct record that would translate well on stage. The result was right on target.
New Comes and Goes stands as a testament to the chops of the exceptional new lineup. The opener, “The Crooked Weird of the Catacombs” sets the Oranger fireball in full motion, with Reed’s and Drake’s guitars a’ blazin.’ In choosing what to record, Drake will tell you most songs, “were chosen because they fit the style of our new drummer pretty well. He’s more Mo Tucker than Keith Moon,” but Who fans the world over may take exception with that statement—Hofer more than aptly channel’s the late legends’ chaotic style in a flurry of sticks, cymbals, drums, and appendages to open the title track. By three tracks in, the point where most records are just getting started, New Comes and Goes is already hammering straight home behind the thick five-piece sound of the new-fangled Oranger.
Although New Comes and Goes unleashes a good deal of that ol’ time rock barrage, the record also brings time and space to a whisper at moments. The vulnerable, “Flying Pretend” begins with a slow piano in an empty room. Distant droning guitars and keyboards sketch abandoned depots and expansive twilights to the lonely realization, “I was a stranger who was passing you by.” The understated “Crones,” evinces the communicative spirit of Roxy Music and the mood-stained counterpoint of Pinback. Though the record covers tremendous distances at an often-furious pace, New Comes and Goes succeeds, not because it is trying to be any one thing, but simply because it is.
So what comes next? After a rousing reception to the Vertov score at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco for the 2005 Noise Pop Film Festival, the band intends to release a DVD of the live performance. The band has also contributed a cover of Bread’s “Make It With You” to the tribute compilation Friends and Lovers – Songs of Bread (Badman), and a cover of “Catfish” to the Bruce Haack/Dimension 5 compilation Dimension Mix (Eenie Meenie), out August 23rd, 2005. Oranger will release New Comes and Goes on Eenie Meenie on September 20th.
In a landscape of ever changing trends and sounds, Oranger is content to carve out its very own piece of scenery. Drake sums it up, “We’re either five years behind or 15 years ahead, depending on how you look at it.” Such speculation is irrelevant—new comes and goes.