On Begin the Begone, the sixth album from northern California pop group The Orange Peels, the group continues to redefine its stylistic parameters while still crafting that winning ear-candy pop with which it has built a solid reputation.
Begin the Begone rocks a bit harder than earlier albums like the near-perfect 2020, and while part of that is thanks to the guitar work of John Moremen (also of The Paul & John, Flotation Device and who-the-hell-knows how many other fine aggregations), but the increased heaviness is clearly a product of Allen Clapp‘s songwriting and arrangement ideas as well. The indie aesthetic meets a baroque pop sensibility (see also: Pet Sounds, The Polyphonic Spree) but wraps it in a heavier rock feel, anchored by bassist Jill Pries and drummer Gabriel Coan.
In some ways, Begin the Begone moves away from the immediacy and hookiness of earlier tunes like the sunshiny power pop of “We’re Gonna Make It,” weaving a gauzier textured musical tapestry that requires (and rewards) repeated listens. But the group’s uncanny knack for pop confection remains on full display with “Embers,” which sports not only a lovely Allen Clapp lead vocal but finds Moremen channeling early 1970s George Harrison.
The skewed pop-centric approach goes completely off the rails with the brief “Post & Beam,” basically a manic two-minute drum solo in which the sounds are treated with effects, and a bit of bloops (synthesizer or treated guitar) add interest. At first listen, “Post & Beam” seems wholly out of place on Begin the Begone, but once it gives way to the intro of “9,” everything makes some sort of contextual sense.
“9” starts off sounding very much like a sample-happy treat from Japan’s Pizzicato Five, but once it’s joined by Moremen’s chiming guitar, Pries’ rock solid bass, and Clapp’s vocal, it reveals itself as a swell (and slightly transcendent) pop tune. The song’s lyric reflecting amazement at being alive refers to a 2013 car accident that could well have killed both Clapp and wife Pries; happily and amazingly, they were both unhurt.
Clapp’s reverberating piano forms the centerpiece of “Satellite Song,” a soaring melody that seems to lift the band sonically, fading off into the ether (or perhaps the, um, aether tide). It would have served as a fine ending to Begin the Begone. But instead, an acoustic guitar intro (something not found elsewhere on the disc) leads into the real closing track, “Wintergreen.” Here The Orange Peels sound a bit like XTC in their Dukes of Stratosphear guise, yet without the 60s trappings.
For most of The Orange Peels’ career, they’ve allowed four years between album releases. But even though Mystery Lawn Music, the label that Clapp heads, has increased its overall output (and, one would think, Clapp’s workload), they turned out Begin the Begone a mere two years after Sun Moon. That they did so without sacrificing quality is a testament to the group’s deep well of talent, and it bodes well for the future. Now, if they’d just tour widely, all would be right in the world.
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