Flagrant Orange (great name!) hail from Portland, Oregon. The songs they’ve been writing during their five years together make up their first album titled The Stories I Still Believe. They call themselves indie-alt rock and try to capture “the poignancy of grief, heartbreak and loneliness that exists in the midst of hope, and the need to connect that defines the human condition.” They point out half-seriously that “only a privileged white girl from Olympia and a poor brown guy from the punk scene in Berkeley” could possibly create these songs.
The band members are Misty Nikula (vocals/lyrics) and Eric Crowfoot (guitars) along with Jeremy Fanders (bass), Matt Bugado (keys) and Jeremy Philpott (drums). The album was recorded at Portland’s Supernatural Sound, with mastering by Adam Gonsalves at Telegraph Audio.
“The Stories I Still Believe - Intro” moves us gently into the Flagrant Orange world, with rain and rolling thunder, followed by Nikula’s speaking voice narrating a sort of pre-show introduction to the songs and music. “These are the stories… of the sadness and joy that haunts our dreamless nights... of the relationships we can’t seem to leave though we don’t know why… of the edges and boundaries of our hopes and fears…”
“Rose” then hints at a more industrial world to come with the arrival of a passenger train, followed by insistent slabs of rock guitar. The band immediately sounds like a sharp, locked-in collective, with matching left-right guitars, trebly bass and heavy drums. Nikula’s vocals are of the Patti Smith school, which is a good match for her poetry-style lyrics. “Gut Punch” begins with synths, then fades in more of those nasal, crunchy power chords. The synths continue along as a sort of string section. Nikula half-sings and half-insinuates the lyrics: “Mama told you do not let them see you cry / so you only cry inside / always searching for your redemption / in among the list of all of your transgressions.”
“Inferno (The Fifth Circle)” heavily channels the raw energy of X via The Pretenders, with Nikula sounding both like Patti Smith and Chrissie Hynde. The organ is a nice addition here. “Love Song” doesn’t slow down for classic love tropes, instead rocking forward with this reversed sentiment: “So many times, I have been wrong / But I still fall for love songs.” Five tracks in, and the wall-of-sound guitars haven’t really taken many breaks! “Box Canyons” starts like a rock ballad with an especially nice and low-key chord scheme. They build this mood for over a minute before the vocals even start, and the lyrics (like the music) are spare and to-the-point: “It’s too loud / can’t hear what you said / there’s all these echoes / echoes in the empty space you left when you went away.”
“On The Brink” is minor key rock built on a Byrds-like riff, with a vocal from the Natalie Merchant school. “Shadow” has a ’50s sci-fi vibe (we can thank that organ again!) for a quite stark but moving look back at a life sometimes lit by shadows. Nice to hear some of the drum rolls by Jeremy Philpott. “A Hundred One” continues this same mood with another look back at a broken love affair: “You left me / standing in the dark / for the hundredth time / now I’m not waiting for / a hundred one.” I like the tribal drum patterns and the twangy Fender-sounding guitars on this one. “That Summer (Reverie 2020)” continues the pattern of slowing down the songs in a dramatic, orchestral fashion, extended the theme of lost love. This track has a nice feel of space and air between the chords, and the piano following along with the guitars is a nice touch, especially when it briefly shares the stage with Nikula’s powerful vocals. Her refrain of “Remember the summer” couldn’t be simpler but works perfectly for the song’s slow build.
The final track “Chasm” begins with a snaky bass line and hi-pitched guitar harmonics, as Nikula dares to sing a song to “a demon in disguise.” The arrangement starts spare, with mostly bass and synth behind the verses, with occasional stabs of fuzz guitar. Three minutes in, the tempo abruptly shifts with all players blazing away on the main theme. Nikula hits some very high notes toward the end that seem unusual for her.
Though some of theses tracks felt a bit similar on the first couple listens, Flagrant Orange have delivered a nicely realized band sound with compelling lead vocals that bodes well for their future, and I look forward to whatever that may be.
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