Album Review: The Orwells, ‘Disgraceland’

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Youth in music is everything; it is the means by which we measure how artists are catered to a young market that makes up such a huge chunk of music consumption. It’s also the easiest to deliver fresh face and often wild eyed up and comers who may have discovered great music for the first time in their life and want to make a statement. Barely out of high school, Illinois act The Orwells pride themselves on being rock ‘n’ roll, as it was, with a healthy dose of vulgarity and kick ass that produces high energy music. On the band’s second album Disgraceland they make a strong effort to keep that mentality afloat but it’s also a mentality that if not tweaked and explored on a deeper level can turn a band into just another face in the crowd.

“Southern Comfort” opens the record with piss and vinegar as some ride along excursion into wild nights in the back of a car full of drunken youths heading out on the town. Lead singer Mario Cuomo makes a strong argument to why the appeal of messy rockers works so well; they aren’t the best at what they do but they deliver in buckets allurement that comes with potential stardom and popularity. He doesn’t sugar coat making advances on the song’s unidentified subject who he wants to just have a good time with talking of not being wise but willing to suck the rum and coke off her tongue.

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If the album were to be broken down into two continuous themes it would be girls and guns which don’t sound like a particularly winning combination. The guns in particular pepper many of the album tracks like “Blood Bubbles” and the band’s breakout number “Who Needs You.” Need more definitive proof? The track “Gotta Get Down” features Cuomo singing with no sense of worry ‘My daddy’s got a twelve gauge/I hope I don’t find it.’

This goes hand in hand with the band’s often public mentality that rock music should have a sense of danger about it both in the context of a song and the show you are attending. But the ladies get just as much love; “The Righteous Ones” speaks greatly of the derelict tone and image of the band that can’t sit down and won’t shut up until some sultry soul comes and shakes them into some ease of abandonment.

The above mentioned “Who Needs You” really demanded attention and rightfully so as a jangly, Strokes esque blast of rock and roll enthusiasm but you realize that the overall consistency of Disgraceland hinders on how many songs in a row of booze smelling, sex-fueled music you want to hear. It’s a cliché in rock and roll which is kind of a dirty word in this day and age but some feel the need to keep the idea alive. The Orwells want to do that so badly but they are young and hopeful musicians so it can be excused because there is time to learn. From what I can tell Disgraceland is very much a representation of the band’s live show which I guarantee from the kind of muffled energy produced here is one hell of a show to attend. However, the translation into a recorded format implies a band that is shouting directly into your ear drum for attention even if Cuomo’s hollering vocals of desperation and Dominic Corso’s string piercing guitar licks really place an identity on the band’s capabilities.

I’m not trying to splatter negativity on these young musicians because Disgraceland moves along with glee and charm that works from song to song. “Bathroom Tile Blues” as tongue in cheek of a title it is claps and thumps with a wrist twitching guitar lyric and hip moving style. There is a strong sense of maturity and experience despite being around for such a short amount of time even when the lyrics act so primitive for their own good.

Now where does the penny drop here? Well, The repeat value of the album only goes so far because the band at its hard isn’t strikingly distinguishable among their scene. There is nothing wrong with brandishing a panache for rock music at its most cut throat but it needs to have its own flare. The band and the album are fiery and in your face but what makes them any different from other acts out there? Disgraceland doesn’t pose a challenge to the rock scene but it will find its audience in those who love watching young musicians gab at the system and go all out even if there is no challenge in music that has been reprocessed for so many years.

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Jason Stives is the Music Editor of Pop-Break as well as the resident Anglophile and Pop-Break representative for BBC America conducting weekly reviews of Doctor Who and Orphan Black. He is currently a contributing writer for PropertyofZack.com and a freelance creative consultant for fundraising and marketing campaigns in New Jersey’s various art communities. He is a graduate of Rutgers University’s class of 2010 with a bachelors in Journalism and Media Studies. When he isn’t attending concerts or writing the great American novel he moonlights as lounge crooner J.M Heavyhart turning the works of Dokken and Dio into Sinatra-esque standards (or at least he would like to be). Follow his constant retweets and occasionally witty banter on Twitter at @jaystives.