Review of Orphans & Vandals album 'I Am Alive And You Are Dead' released through Ambiguous Records.
London-based five piece Orphans & Vandals produce some of the most dark and disturbing, yet completely compelling music I have heard. In fact Tom Robinson of BBC6 described them as 'the single most exciting band I've encountered in a long time' and even at first listen of 'I Am Alive And You Are Dead', you can understand why. Half singing and half spoken word, the songs are journeys through the consciousness of vocalist Al Joshua. They focus on the menace and darkness of the inner city London streets, covering issues of loss, yearning, sex and death; this together with the complex musical arrangements provides a shock to all your senses.
The combination of guitar, piano and strings provides a perfect vehicle for the lyrics. And despite their spoken-word poetic nature, the lyrics become part of the songs rather than just being laid over the top, which I can imagine is not easy to achieve; and the haunting almost tortured vocals complete the package. Instruments such as the harmonica, glockenspiel and musical saw add to the crescendo, building emotion in each piece. The stand out track is the epic 10 minute Mysterious Skin; telling of a journey to Paris in search of happier experiences and trying to make a mark on the world. The lyrics sung with such emotion, it's heart-rending. Songs such as Metropes reflect this album perfectly; it is lyrically unsettling yet musically brilliant. The vocals are low and harsh and the overall effect is hypnotic.
At times difficult to listen to, the emotionally charged and often shocking lyrics of I am alive and you are dead hold you like a magnet and the complex musical arrangements make the album even more hypnotic. Their style is visionary and bold, and no doubt will split people down the middle. But you can't help but be profoundly affected by it and Orphans & Vandals should signify an exciting chapter in new music.