Sometimes plans can be overrated. Sure they can help focus a group toward a common goal, but overdo it and you can end up with an album that sounds and feels more like a corporate quarterly report than art.
When The Orange Peels embarked on recording sessions for their fifth album, Sun Moon (Minty Fresh/Mystery Lawn Music), the band really didn’t have a direction in mind. Afterall, they’d already conquered the indiepop, powerpop and West-Coast rock genres with their critically acclaimed back-catalog, and they didn’t want to fall into the old trap of trying to repeat past successes.
What came next was exciting, unexpected and frustrating as the band navigated a new sound it was inventing with each new session. Gathering on Sunday afternoons without a clear idea of what would happen, the band came up with something new every time, and recorded the fresh tracks hours later.
Peels’ bassist and founding member Jill Pries was partly to blame for the shake-up in the band’s process. The band’s main songwriter, Allen Clapp, was busy producing albums for other likeminded bands (Jim Ruiz Set, The Corner Laughers, Alison Faith Levy) and running his new boutique record label, Mystery Lawn Music. Pries wanted to get the Orange Peels back on track, so she started organizing sessions even when Clapp didn’t have anything written for the band to record.
”There is change afoot. The whimsical, slightly mod-ish playfulness of its earlier albums has been supplanted by pensive earnestness — not that it’s necessarily a bad thing, really. The sumptuously dense semi-dirge “The Words Don’t Work” exudes a classy, Abbey Road-like majesty. — East Bay Express
“I wasn’t too happy about that at first, because that wasn’t the way we typically did things,” Clapp confesses. “I guess I had a certain idea of what a songwriter should do, and I felt like I needed to be bringing the song stuff.”
But it opened up the process to a group dynamic that breathed new life into the band. With the collaboration of lead guitarist John Moremen (Flotation Device, Half Japanese, Roy Loney) who’s recorded and toured with the band on both drums and guitar—and new drummer Gabriel Coan (who comes to the Peels from ambient and electronic bands including Carta and Continental), the band just started making this new kind of music.
It would then be up to Clapp to figure out how to embellish the raw tracks with lyrics and vocals. This was not always an easy path. Some songs had four sets of discarded lyrics, and some ended up with none at all. “I had to figure out who this person was who would be singing a song that sounded like this . . . and then get into that person’s head and write something from their perspective,” Clapp says.
So it is on its fifth album that the band finds itself navigating the confluence of post rock, indiepop, space rock, nouveau psychedelia, and prog rock, with melody as its only compass. That’s probably what some critic will say anyway. The Orange Peels couldn’t really tell you for sure though. They never really wrote a business plan for the album. It all just happened. Welcome to Sun Moon.