The Orielles – ‘Tableau’

I know that I had heard (of) The Orielles back in 2018 when their ‘Silver Dollar Moment’ LP arrived because ‘I Only Bought It For The Bottle’ was on the Unpopular mix for April of that year, yet in truth I barely remember that record and listening to it again now I can hear why. It sounds  underwhelming, as though there are interesting ideas simmering beneath the surface but not quite breaking through. This would likely explain why I let the next two albums (2020’s ‘Disco Volador’ and last year’s ‘La Vita Olistica’) pass me by, and an admittedly brief revisit now does not convince me that I missed out on a great deal by doing so. They seem fine enough records, and the Bossa Stereolab vibe is pleasant as far as it goes, but I’m not sure that pleasant is enough.

I’d likely have passed on ‘Tableau’ too if not for Dave Haslam posting ‘The Room’ on his social media. I have a lot of time for Haslam and have very much enjoyed all of his books down the years, just as I dug the Debris fanzine back in the mists of time. If it had been almost anyone else I am not sure I would have given The Orielles another chance, but I am very pleased I did, for ‘Tableau’ sounds to me like an immeasurably more mature and intriguing sound than those previous records. The vocals still sound a little polite and precious at times, and at others veer too far (for me) into contemporary R&B treatments, but a new depth of gloaming darkness adds chiaroscuro that was previously lacking. It’s hardly the sound of gloomy Gothic introspection, but it does seem to have vast depths that I could not previously have guessed.

‘Tableau’ then does sound like a group getting to grips with how to blend a diaspora of influences into something personal and, if not exactly unique, then at least genuinely intriguing and engaging. Intriguingly for a group I’d have previously tagged as being nicely positioned in the realm of succinct Pop, it is the long pieces on ‘Tableau’ that most impressively demand and hold attention. ‘Improvisation 001’ is nigh on nine minutes of exploratory meandering that sometimes reminds me of Emily’s ‘Rub Al Khali’ whilst at others it conjures the textures of Modern Nature (both the group and Derek Jarman’s way of seeing). ‘Transmission’ is more structured, but still lusciously limber and lithe, stretching through the air like the ghost of Joy Division seen through the kaleidoscope of fractured time and warped by the time-travel jet lag of perception.

Coming in at a biscuit under eight minutes, ‘Beam/s’ might just be The Orielles’ critical point of breakthrough from previous polite piety into a new universe fuelled by magical contradictions and hallucinatory imperfections. It is vast yet compellingly multi-textural, an encompassing cloud of shadow that reaches inward with tendrils that pinch and electrify. ‘Beam/s’ is landscape that enfolds us, that wraps us within its light and plays with our perceptions of reality and imagination. 

It is telling however that whilst ‘Beam/s’ creates a mesmerising mass around which all else revolves, it does not dominate to the exclusion of all else. Orbiting it The Orielles have artfully positioned small treasures that glisten all the more beautifully because of their juxtaposition with each other and the black hole void created by the mass of ‘Beam/s’ and those other two collapsing stars. Pieces like ‘To Offer, To Erase’, ‘Some Day Later’ and ‘Honfleur Remembered’ feel like precious treasures, like Oded Shimshon’s beautiful ‘Set Pieces’ arranged on window sills. Somehow these moments defy gravity, uniting as they do to form a chorus of falling angels praising the heavens even as that vision implodes around them in delicious organised chaos. 

‘Tableau’ then is a magnificent and wholly unexpected treat, a record that is sure to continue to reward repeated listens. Well worth an hour of your time. 

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