Elmhurt, Illinois’ the Orwells (Grant Binner – bass, Henry Binner – drums, Dominic Corso – guitar, Mario Cuomo – vocals, Matt O’Keefe – guitar) have this neat blend of Chicagoland grit, snotty punk, psychedelia, and Midwestern garage rock that is riff heavy and really catchy. Their newest album, Terrible Human Beings, is a great example of it.
The opener, and first single, “They Put the Body in the Bayou,” is a powerhouse of a tune and one of the best rock singles of 2017. It starts out slow at first, but then bursts out with psychedelic reverb and funky bass. The song is about the pitfalls of the music industry (“All right, make it quick. Good songs make you rich.”) and our culture’s love of sharing others’ misery with our friends (“I came by to see. I just had to know who put the body in the bayou.”).
“Fry” has sizzling guitar throughout it as Cuomo sings about people addiction to television and frying their minds on empty pop culture. “Creatures” depicts us as people “fading, creating, losing all control. Spinning and grinning, looking for a soul. Rollin’ and flowin’, tryin’ to find a role. Before you know it, you’re livin’ in a hole.” A “Vacation” should be a good time, but the Orwells know that often you need a vacation from your vacation.
I’m not sure if “Black Francis” is a takedown on the Pixies’ lead singer, or a what the Orwells think the Pixies (who do seem to be an influence) would think of them: “Have you heard that band? / Yeah, I think they’re shit. / And the way they dress? / Yeah, they think they’re hip. / And the things they say? / Yeah, it’s all a bluff. / And where they’re from? / Yeah, it ain’t that rough. / Black Franky’s got my world in his hands.” It’s really catchy and I’d love to know the story behind it. “M.A.D.” has a nice surf sound to it. The sharp bass of “Buddy” is some of Grant Binner’s best work on the record, and I like how the guitars soar around it at all times. “Hippie Soldier” and “Heavy Head” have great rock hooks throughout them. Both sing about different generations and the faults of each, with “Heavy Head” (a takedown of their own Millennial generation) being the most searing.
The guitars on “Ring Pop” shred as Cuomo sings about things in plain sight being “not quite right.” “Last Call (Go Home)” is a salute to barflies seeking romance. “Double Feature” has Cuomo singing about how he could’ve had any other career than a rock singer, but he “came from the wrong side of the tracks” and was doomed to a rock and roll life. It becomes a wild, cosmic freak-out by the end.
The running theme of Terrible Human Beings is that we are our own worst enemy. We constantly put limits on ourselves or continue behaviors we know are detrimental. We like to point the finger at anyone else, but we forget about all the other fingers pointing back at us. The Orwells’ new album is an examination of conscience, a Zen story, a therapy session, hidden in a smart, sharp rock record.
Keep your mind open.
[I put the updates in your inbox when you subscribe.]