The music industry has a knack for proving that age really is just a number.
The Orwells, consisting of five recent high school graduates, have been making waves in the rock industry since their 2012 debut Remember When, and playing at major festivals like Lollapalooza since last year. Now, with the wind still in its sails, the band released its more polished sophomore record Disgraceland.
The Chicago-based quintet has the sound and persona of a typical garage rock band, covering edgy subject matter and writing crunchy, power chord-driven anthems since its inception. That aside, the transition between the Orwells’ debut and Disgraceland is blatantly obvious; the new tracks sound more concise and less experimental. The transformation makes for more radio-friendly material, but that doesn’t mean the Orwells have lost their flair this early in the game.
It’s evident from the get-go that the Orwells are the same reckless lot everyone fell in love with a few years back.
The alcohol-fueled, sex-filled “Southern Comfort” kicks the album off with style, from the classic drumbeat to the wailing lead guitar and singer Mario Cuomo’s signature drawl. “Southern Comfort” is a pivotal step in the band’s metamorphosis, even bringing up Cuomo’s newfound knowledge after a hit album and subsequent tour with the line, “I’m not that old, but I’m getting pretty wise.”
The line holds true for the band as a whole and Cuomo, both of which have grown in the last two years. Unfortunately, the group has slightly dumbed down its artistic range, but the shift is bittersweet; it’s led to a more tailored version of the Orwells’ past work that feels more put together, making for more direct takes on the few genres they wade through.
“Bathroom Tile Blues” has a distinctly different sound that’s adopted and exploited for one song only. The warm track gets the signature Orwells twist, still talking about a rough night of drinking and complicated relationships over a passive riff. The band breaks from the madness of punk tracks like “The Righteous One” or “Let It Burn” with a simple, catchy take on the blues. The song is a lot more stripped down than many of the others, but lead guitarist Dominic Corso doesn’t waste the opportunity to shine, delivering one of his best guitar solos to date.
The intensity of Cuomo’s vocals and Corso’s riffs increase on the unforgettable single “Who Needs You” and zealous waltz track “Blood Bubbles,” both of which show the Orwells bringing all they have to the table.
The first is a catchy summer anthem with a pinch of the Strokes sprinkled on top, calling for an end to violence and pushing for a carefree life away from war and oppression. It’s an energetic mess of instruments, cranking up the distortion and drums to match the emotion behind Cuomo’s call to action.
The latter is the most powerful song on Disgraceland, with the staccato riffs creating constant tension and release. Corso is in his own world, delivering a solo for almost the entire song, while Cuomo’s vocal performance is stunning, as he once again deals with tragic subject matter—this time, suicide. “Blood Bubbles” is an intoxicating track, and proof of the Orwells’ growth, making listeners completely forget the band’s age.
The entirety of Disgraceland sounds like it was written by much older musicians who’ve had the time to hone their style—a shockingly impressive feat for a handful of high school grads—but there’s still room for improvement. At times, the songs can be primitive, doing no justice to the musicians’ skills; they only write to their full potential in short spurts.
Regardless, this is an excellent sophomore attempt by one of the scene’s best up-and-coming bands. There’s plenty of time for the Orwells to develop, and judging by the transformation from Remember When to Disgraceland, it’s only a matter of time before this young bunch rule over the world of rock.
The Orwells – Disgraceland tracklist:
- “Southern Comfort”
- “The Righteous One”
- “Dirty Sheets”
- “Bathroom Tile Blues”
- “Gotta Get Down”
- “Let It Burn”
- “Who Needs You”
- “Always N’ Forever”
- “Blood Bubbles”
- “North Ave.”