Well, Kiss That Frog, climb atop Solsbury Hill, and grab your nearest Sledgehammer: We’ve found a doppelgänger for Peter Gabriel. And lucky for us, it’s a local kid by the name of Kai Orion. Also a member of College Park quintet Bare Left (who we’ve reviewed before under the name Bluebeard), Orion has gone full-on Gabriel with his latest EP, “Pots & Pans,” and boy, if you’re even a remote fan of the former Genesis frontman, these seven songs will open you up to a fairly impressive secret world of its own.
That’s because, as Orion notes, this is an album that was “created using only everyday found objects, found sounds, field recordings and household items as instruments, with the exception of voice. Each song focuses on a different setting or location common in modern life.” Sound pretentious? You bet. But it takes a special kind of musical mind to pull it all off with proper amounts of both intrigue and accessibility. Kai Orion is just the guy to do it.
Take “Quiet Love” as an example. It’s the set’s second track, but the first on which you can really hear the Gabriel influence in his voice. The song moves methodically through atmospherics that recall some of the spacier material his most prominent inspiration has produced. Echoes and ambiance provide an apt stage for Orion’s voice — so much so that barely (just barely) you can hear a wince of Coldplay’s Chris Martin creep through at the end of a few choice lines.
But that’s just barely. Because the rest of the set? It’s all Gabriel, all the time. “No Conversation” is where that formula comes together the most. If it’s not through the signature vocal cracks heard at the conclusion of a few verses, then it’s the ambition with which this guy crafts his art. What does that mean? Well, check out the list of instruments used, in addition to his voice, throughout the five minutes and 16 seconds at hand:
Drawers. A typewriter. A knock on wood. A busy signal. A dial tone. A no-service signal. Phones ringing. A printer printing. A stapler. Pots and pans being struck. Wine glasses. And, of course, wine glasses being blown. That’s it. That’s the list.
The thing is, you’d never even know that actual instruments weren’t being played. In fact, for a brief set of seconds, the backbeat even evokes the early tones of perhaps Gabriel’s most politically charged song, “Biko.” Then, as if that’s not enough to get you to reminisce about a song like “Moribund the Burgermeister,” the singer throws in a chorus that draws upon all those great chant-like cadences the more famous artist in this equation has used brilliantly throughout his career. It’s eerie how similar the two are.
Elsewhere, the smarts keep coming and the grooves get weirder. “Machines” showcases a bit of Tom Waits ethos with its clunkiness, the banging of the machinery providing a texture that could … well … only work if it was the actual sound of actual banging on actual machinery (which it is). “Beautiful Darkness” takes the noise of a dribbled basketball and somehow manages to make it appear at least slightly funky. And “A Silent Car Ride” is both charming and witty, the various vehicular intonations proving to be a fantastical way to anchor a song.
“A Dream Of You” then wraps things up slowly, Orion’s voice taking its time with a touch of melancholy and a spate of layers. As the song begins to fade, and the effects are turned up on his vocals, it becomes the perfect way to end a confounding and calculated collection of songs that deserves as much credit for its imagination as it does its resolve. You don’t need to look much further than the “snow melting off trees” instrument to truly grasp as much.
And if it’s not “snow melting off trees”, then maybe it’s “whistling wind.” Or “tea kettles boiling.” Or “car keys jingling.” Or … you get it. Kai Orion’s “Pots & Pans” is, without question, the most ambitious record of 2015, and, considering how much influence he seemingly takes from one of the most forward-thinking pop artists of the last 30 years, it’s probably safe to proclaim this EP a grand victory on all ends.
The nuances are many. The ingenuity is unparalleled. The execution is mind-blowing. The end result is genius. A secret world, indeed.
**** 4 STARS OUT OF 4 ****