Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Roy Orbitron, Girls' Boyfriends, 2016

Album Review

Early last year, I was at a show at Asbury Lanes. I saw something like this go by in my timeline after a little back and forth with @royorbitron: "I hope @cooldadmusic pans my album." And so I did.

Just to be clear, I really enjoyed Elston Allen Gunnn. I thought my pseudo-pan was a pretty clever angle / joke, but someone still offered to punch my face on Roy Orbitron's behalf. So I'll play this one straight.

Girls' Boyfriends is the first full-length from Bordentown's Roy Orbitron. Recorded at Red Bank's Retromedia Sound Studios as well as at mastermind Conor Meara's home among other places and mixed and mastered by Christopher Colbert in Oregon, Girls Boyfriends' is also Roy Orbitron's best sounding collection to date. The songs here -- with their complex arrangements and off-kilter structures -- benefit greatly from the extra attention.

"Your one-in-a-million will still break your heart," sing Meara and Cynthia Rittenbach on opener "Love Die Hard." It sets things up for what's to follow -- bitterness, regret, playing the hand you're dealt, dreaming. Noah Baum's violin slices through everything and makes me think of what must be bouncing around in Meara's (who I know pretty well) brain.

Speaking of Conor Meara's brain: sometimes I listen to a record, and I stop to think for a minute. What I'm hearing, this final product, all started as an idea in someone's head. It was all in there, and this crazy, complex work is now out here. Obviously, right. It still amazes me.


"Never Seen Central Park" features Meara's baritone sailing over a melodic meander. The last verse switches things up, though, going out on a bit of Poguesian riotousness (even including the phrase "with a pair of brown eyes").

One of the album's standouts, "Domestic Use (Oh, Nettie!)," speaks to Meara's fantasy of packing himself down to New Orleans. "If my actions met my mouth. It'd be on that train in my heart runnin' south." Responsibilities (adulthood, single fatherhood), maybe fears, keep that from happening. "Won't you come up and meet me in New Jersey? Lord knows, I'll never leave." Guitars swirl in a frenzy all around the final verse before the song goes out on a quiet coda that makes reference to fellow NJ musician, Francie Moon.

"Brimstone Suckers" (about a certain college town in New Jersey) and "Fuck College" each appear on earlier, separate Roy Orbitron EPs. They belong together. On "Fuck College," Meara went to school and got a good, hard dose of real life. On "Brimstone Suckers," he's looking at a college community through the eyes of someone with that experience. Both new versions are expansions and improvements on the originals.

"Swimmer's Ear" is a beautiful and depressing and beautifully depressing waltz about giving up. Baum's wailing violin and the "sha la la las." "There's no hope for me. But we're on the same ship to the sea. You can go down slow. But in the end we all go."

"Condoms in My Leather Jacket" opens Side 2 (or the post-"Roy Orbitron Interview (Interlude)" section on digital versions). It's a rock song at the beginning, kind of a march singalong in the chorus, and it goes out on kind of a jazzy vibe. I think it gets back to that life experience idea and not wanting to repeat mistakes.

Things get kind of dark and bitter on "Rain Jawn" and "Swallow," the former being kind of a proggy sonic outlier when compared to the rest of the record, before brightening up (mostly) on the Springsteenian "Diddley Tree." "Diddley Tree" even has Meara offering to "put down my songs and give my nights to you" after becoming a success.

Like Elston Allen Gunnn, things close out with "Pastoral." This version sticks pretty closely to the original, complete with -- once again -- Baum's violin and Rittenbach's forlorn harmonies. It's not a hopeful and uplifting ending -- "This life's a disease and it's eating clean through me" -- But I would've been surprised if Meara went for that.

Girls' Boyfriends is an honest record. It's a guy pouring everything out of his head that being a struggling musician and a single dad and lonely and full of regret and hopeful for something more has put in there. And what we hear is the final product. It's a product that mixes rock, Americana, folk, prog, Gaelic sounds and more into something that nobody else is doing. Even if you don't "get it" the first time, spend some more time with Girls' Boyfriends and I think you will.

You can stream Girls' Boyfriends at RoyOrbitron.org and you can get it at your favorite online music retailer.

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