Reviewed by: Dorothy Pawlowski
Published: 6 January 2011
ep: picnic on a whale
Orsino Nation is a two piece local act comprising a vocalist, Yasmine Amber, and a keyboardist/producer, Paul Hilton. The name is from Count Orsino, the despairing lover who opens Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. From what I can gather the music offered on their CD “Picnic on a Whale” is appropriate to that image; a bit dramatic, songs of love and the pain that love entails, wrapped up in a classically inspired soundscape but contemporary and just a little "goth".
Not black metal/ EBM industrial goth nor neo-folk, though that's closer. Rather it reminds me somewhat of that witchy Stevie Nicks thing that features mystical moments but is not totally divergent from the mainstream. Having said that, what can be called “mainstream” these days is a little confusing and often includes some pretty far out stuff, and this offering from Orsino Nation is way more meaty and engaging than the afore-mentioned Ms Nicks' oeuvre.
The band has dubbed itself a progressive folk/rock outfit on the internet and lists classic rock like Pink Floyd and Queen as influences but they also list Dimmu Borgir and, most appropriately I feel, Tori Amos and that style of music where song writing transcends genre, is perhaps the best indication of what's going on here.
This CD is atmospheric and impressionistic, like vignettes painted on cigar box lids, songs to be listened to and felt rather than anything to be danced to (unless you feel like a bit of ballet or fandango perhaps), and more like a soundtrack to a break-up scene or some heavy soul searching than to any of the traditional Saturday night pursuits (unless they involve wine, candles and lurve).
The production is excellent, which one would expect from something that's probably been mostly put together "in the box" (it sounds like mostly computer-generated sounds) mixed seamlessly with the live electric and acoustic instruments. Yasmine's voice is processed beautifully to bridge whatever gap may remain, gliding from ethereal ghostly choruses to sweet intimate musing and back to raw passionate emotion.
The first song is just vocals and something zither-like, a sweet, slightly sad ballad. This is followed by "Moscow" which is very much in the style of the fin de siecle composers with a distinctly Russian overtones presented in a romantically dreamy minor key and featuring a multi tracked vocal chorus with a bit of a drone to it; more ballet music than folk song but very effective.
The next few tracks become more menacing with organ sounds, harpsichords and pad washes discordantly developing into something a little scary, almost like a Cradle of Filth introduction track. The finale to the album is "The Vampiress Song" (why am I not surprised by that title?) which builds from organ to piano and drums and then goes pretty sick with full power, death-metal guitar riffs and mandatory minor key arpeggios. I may be making it sound more corny than it actually is because it works really well and has quite a kick to it.
I think that with “Picnic on a Whale”, Orsino Nation demonstrate a great deal of talent and a lot of actual art (also represented by the wonderful CD cover graphics) rather than the more craft-oriented song writing of the pop or rock genres. I think I’ll be keeping an eye (and ear) on Orsino Nation in the future.