We’re supposed to play our LPs on 33 1/3, right side atop, EQ knobs fair. We know this, but we insist on mucking things up. We kill Paul, we heed calls to Do It!; there’s a naughty world locked in those grooves, and letting it out just feels so Rock. So it’s hard not to feel sucker-punched by a record that turns the tables, flipping itself around, dragging its narrative backward, and practically knocking us over in the scuffle for the 45 switch.
Voices and Organs is the latest avant-garde offering from Texas-based Western Vinyl, a label known for strangely beautiful (and beautifully strange) concept pieces. The Swedish outfit only recently even became a band. Before that, legend goes (Western Vinyl artists generally arrive armed with their own legends) their now-LP, Orphanage, was actually a short-story collection.
If Orphanage the album is any indication, I can only guess that fiction sloughed off the linear muzzle on page 1. The record opens with a progression of glacial piano twinkles and fumbly horn stabs, but these serve more to remind us that simple, pretty chamber pop is possible (and elsewhere). Underneath, a grumpy drum track hauls itself ass-first through the lush little number, gnashing every gear. On top, angelic voices murmur, “Any day now I will forget.” Forget what, we wonder? We’re being initiated in reverse here, longing to erase a story we’re not yet privy to.
This flip is the dominant mode of Orphanage; rather than building a text, it seems to be reeling one in. Ostensibly, the album is about two young orphans, and this is a compelling way to actualize their sense of being set adrift, of walking backward from point zero. Rather than aging, they “grow young.” Photographs are the privileged images the pair’s memories only imitate, their brightness an effect of their unreality.
Musically, nearly every track would hold equal logic if played end to front, and there’s evidence the group did just that. The aptly named “Back and Forth” is one of many that bears the trademark suctions of reverse tape.
All of which is clever — but how does such an album end? Does it begin? In a sense. After a record’s worth of playing the rearview mirror as forward march, closer “Orphans” finally gives us some befuddling underbelly, a frenzied final crosshatching of spools that can only be untangled with those trusty Grados.
Voices and Organs on Western Vinyl’s Web site (audio samples)