The Orchids

Unholy Soul

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The Orchids' second full-length release -- first if you count Lyceum as just an EP, admittedly -- Unholy Soul is one of those albums that, hearing it for the first time, just makes you wonder where the band has been all this time. If Striving for the Lazy Perfection was their pinnacle, Unholy Soul is more than simply a lead up to it, 12 songs of emotional wit, sparkling U.K. indie pop arrangements spiked with a variety of electronic elements and a killer touch in James Hackett's vocals. While as seemingly drowsy as that of so many contemporary shoegazers -- something that the band's arrangements often parallel as well, though the Orchids favor a richness of texture over feedback overdrive and lots of digital delay -- Hackett's understatement isn't precious fragility but rumination, the voice of someone thinking things over in his head who occasionally finds courage to speak. So the impact of a song like "Bringing You the Love" relies on how gently but winningly he sings, especially on the chorus, over the low-key lope of the arrangement, snapping one's fingers and skipping down the lane. That his singing and the band's playing so perfectly match song for song makes for one treat after another -- the gentle melancholy of "Long Drawn Sunday Night," the proto-trip-hop-meets-ringing-guitars of "Waiting for the Storm." Meanwhile, the soulful singing of Pauline Hynds on three songs, including the stellar, techno-driven "The Sadness of Sex, Pt. 1," provides a contrast for Hackett without overriding him, a beautiful combination over beautiful music -- even while the band indulges in a bit of silly humor with the cartoon-sampling "Moon Lullaby." The LTM reissue once again shows the label's care for the past, including both the Penetration EP and the Something for the Longing single that came out in the months before Unholy Soul surfaced.

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