Chicago garage rock revival band The Orwells are a walking contradiction.
Toeing the line between refined crafting and total imperfection, and their new album, Disgraceland, is laced with both heavy darkness and the angsty lyrics you’d expect from five misfit teen boys. As lead singer Mario Cuomo puts it, after the band’s raucous Letterman performance, “…we’re not going to play the entire song correctly. We would’ve been faking it if we’d played every single note and were perfectly on time.”
That’s what gives the band, and album, much of its appeal; they’ve found an oddly charming way to give their sheltered suburban lives the middle finger. “Southern Comfort” is a fitting lead track, featuring adolescent testosterone-spiked lyrics like “give me a smile and take off your pants.” “Dirty Sheets” follows suit, where “she came so quick and now she’s gone” is only the beginning of the double-entendres. And then there’s “Bathroom Tile Blues,” which has the boys already lamenting the sex, drugs and rock n roll lifestyle they might actually be dreaming of.
Disgraceland’s most popular single is the anti-US “Who Needs You,” in which Cuomo defiantly says “no thank you dear old Uncle Sam” when told to join the army. The rebellion continues as Cuomo lets out his inner Jim Morrison on “The Righteous One,” howling his way through a scorching three minutes and 41 seconds of reminders that The Orwells “don’t have a care.”
But the album isn’t all teen insolence, catchy melodies and lusty lyrics. “Norman” is palpably dark, with lyrics like “blood in the hallway, blood on my t-shirt/you’re not gonna make it to the sequel.” The darkest, though, is “Blood Bubbles,” which haunts with a shadowy love story about a girl who “screamed out for help but nobody came so she picked up my gun and put it to her brain.”
Disgraceland is both twisted and fun, with a garage punk sound influenced by the likes of Nirvana, The Doors and, most markedly, The Strokes. But The Orwells still remain rough around the edges in their own unique way, apologizing to no one yet maintaining a sort of youthful vulnerability and confusion. And then they add radiant guitar chords, polished production and awesome hooks into the mix, making Disgraceland pretty unforgettable. The Orwells are a new favorite of mine, and one of the post-punk revival’s best hopes at the moment. If you like good alternative music, or just want to hear something cool, you should give the album a download. Even better, catch them live; you can find their show dates on their website.
Edited by Valerie Reich
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