L’Orange – The Orchid Days

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Mello Music Group: 2014

L’Orange is more than a producer, he’s a storyteller. Ever since his debut in 2011, he’s nailed a signature style, developed a distinct voice, and, with The Orchid Days, liberated yet another terrific listen.

Relying on jazz-age and mid-century samples, voiceover acting from radio theater and a tightly-reigned narrative structure, L’Orange has created a vivid virtual world and an immersive experience for the listener.

Like any good storyteller, L’Orange begins with a captivating opening. Actor Erik Todd Dellums begins the album, speaking of a halcyonic history where “time was measured in heartbeats per minute” before darkness crept in. At once wistful and ominous, it’s an auspicious opening – an atmosphere successfully created from scratch.

The cinematic sounds of the opener segue to a dust-covered vocal chop and, a potent reminder that L’Orange is more than just playing with sound effects. His beats knock, only enhanced by the atmospheric environment Orange carefully cultivates. He creates a world that is shadowy and suspenseful, ambitiously ambiguous and hopelessly romantic. Orchid Days also contains moments where the listener can simply let the beats bang.

Orchid Days has been described as L’Orange’s most revealing effort to date. With all of the dialogue and sweeping nostalgia of by-gone eras, the record is reminiscent to the soundtrack to someone’s memory. As if by magic, he successfully creates wistfulness for something that didn’t exist to the tune of tight, jazzy loops with warm, head-nodding bass.

In addition to the production, the story is helped along by some compelling characters. Erica Lane – frequent collaborator and femme fatale from 2012’s Mad Writer - slinks back into the scene on “Man of the Night”. Homeboy Sandman takes listeners through a first date where he plays it impossibly cool: “I got recognized twice in the street after. I handled them gracefully, as is my character,” he smoothly delivers. Jeremiah Jae and Billy Woods both make head-turning appearances on the album’s second half.

Blu’s scorching appearance on “Need You” ends up shining exceptionally bright. On top of a twinkling piano, Blu sounds crisp and clear-eyed. He steps into the beat brilliantly and refuses to let up over the track’s too-short two-plus minutes.

Regarding song length, L’Orange’s decision to keep most tracks around two minutes is an interesting one. The atmosphere that is so diligently constructed ultimately feels fleeting, like a fading image on a projector or someone twiddling with a radio tuner, adding to the temporaneousness and nostalgia of the moment. It also keeps the listener engaged, forced to recalibrate as the scenes shift throughout the album. Over 19 tracks though, some of those vocal chops end up sounding a little too routine. L’Orange is so good at what he does, he almost makes it look too easy.

Squinting past the dimly-lit, noir street corners is a sort of world-builder of beats – a Minecrafter with the MPC. The sound may seem narrow in focus, but the record’s main topics – love, loneliness, regret – feel timeless. And it helps that the production is executed exceedingly well. The combination of patient storytelling and serious sample-flipping make Orchid Days an engaging listen well-worth an investment of time, if only because it compels you to recall a special time that may not exist. Such is the power of a good story in the hands of a talented storyteller.

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4 out of 5

You can buy The Orchid Days on Bandcamp.