ORB circumvents originality, creativity

Upon receiving ORB’s new album In My Mind, I immediately put it in my Discman and brought it to the gym. For me, the best indication of the worth of a CD is whether I can work out to it. I don’t necessarily need fast, poppy music to pump me up when I’m working out. The only requirement is that the music be interesting. If the songs are creative enough to intrigue me, I can work out while listening to them, because I’ll focus on the music. If, however, the songs are unoriginal or dull, I will stop paying attention to them, and instead pay attention to what I’m doing – moving my feet back and forth in little plastic slides and beginning to feel like a hamster in a wheel growing bored.

In My Mind kept me interested for a while. The Denver-based band, consisting of bassist Jimi Blake, keyboard player Greg Atwood, guitarist and lead singer Scott Laney, drummer Duke DesRochers and guitarist Ryan DesRochers, formed in Colorado in 1999, and follows a style of music that can best be described as classic rock. ORB’s sound is more reminiscent of a band from the ’70s than it is of anything on the radio currently. Their songs rely mostly on guitars, with the occasional synthesizer in the background and without much other instrumentation.

The guitar-playing on each song is excellent – probably the best aspect of the CD. Each song begins with a guitar instrumental. On the more upbeat songs, like “In My Mind” and “The Escape,” these instrumentals are catchy and enticing; on ballads like “Set Me Back” and “Ophelia,” they are beautiful and haunting. In either case, they make the listener curious and excited to hear the rest of the song. The lead singer, Scott Laney, has a strong, clear voice that allows you to understand all the lyrics – a rare attribute that grabs the attention and draws the listener into the song.

Once the songs’ melodies get going, however, the music becomes much less interesting. ORB began their career as a cover band, which may explain why many of their songs sound like less unique versions of other bands’ tunes. The guitar playing on “The Escape” is vaguely reminiscent of U2, while the guitar hook that kicks off “Road to Riches” made me think of Lenny Kravitz. Halfway into the songs, though, you realize that those more accomplished artists would have taken that guitar part and combined it with an unusual and engaging melody, which ORB largely fails to do.

ORB’s melodies don’t take long to start sounding like something you’ve already heard, not necessarily because you have already heard them, but because they’re predictable. The songs never surprise you, never risk anything, never take turns that make the listener think, “I never could have thought to do that with this song.” The songs end up exactly where you imagine they will, where anyone would have taken them – not where a band with unique vision and skill would have taken them. The songs aren’t bad, they just aren’t good. They’re mundane. They sound good enough the first time you hear them, but after that they begin to grow boring.

Because of this lack of originality, the more upbeat songs are overall better choices than the ballads. Upbeat songs have a much better shelf life than ballads. The song may not be particularly interesting, but at least it’s fast and catchy and fun to listen to, for a little while, anyway. “The Escape” and “Silver Smoke” stand out – they’re energetic enough that, for a while, the listener doesn’t care if they aren’t original. These are the songs you try to find on your favorite file-sharing device.

On the other hand, if a song isn’t interesting and, on top of that, is slow-moving, you find yourself reaching to change the track much more quickly. A slow song has to be either gorgeous or intriguing – ideally both – and ORB’s slow songs are neither. Like all the songs on In My Mind, “Set Me Back” starts off with a promising guitar part. However, the melody doesn’t change once – it simply repeats itself over and over. When the song ended, I found myself in part relieved, in part surprised that it wasn’t still going.

The pretty opening guitar part on “Ophelia,” my least favorite song on the CD, is quickly overshadowed by the bland, whiny melody. This particular song is also marred by its lyrics. It’s a love song addressed to the dead Ophelia from Hamlet, but lines like “I lay alone and cry myself to sleep / and how I wish that river weren’t so deep” make the song exceedingly cheesy.

For the most part, the rest of the lyrics on the songs on In My Mind are unremarkable either way. Except for the CD’s title track, the lyrics of which consist of a plethora of random words and sentences like “purple radiator in my mind / double fisted knee-caps / men that butcher swine,” and “Spank,” a song in which a father threatens to punish his promiscuous teenage daughter. The lyrics to “In my Mind” simply confused me, while the lyrics to “Spank,” despite the note in the album sleeve, “This song deals with the difficulty of disciplining teenagers. ORB does not condone the abuse of children,” were somewhat horrifying.

Overall, ORB has some degree of promise. I would put them in the middle ground of bands – not excellent, yet not awful. Put differently, you would not necessarily use In My Mind as a substitute frisbee, but you also wouldn’t take it to the gym.