Plumes soar to new heights on the beguiling Oh Orwell.
Just as calling a feather a “plume” is a more beautiful way to describe it, so too Plumes’ orchestral music is more lush and colourful than you’d imagine if it were just called pop. Through nine songs, Oh Orwell runs the gamut from Snowblink-esque tenderness to funky synth-pop and back again.
There is a seven-year gap between Veronica Charnley et al.’s debut self-titled LP and Oh Orwell; since then Charnley and Geof Holbrook have parted ways, so this is a bittersweet project at a minimum. Charnley is the principal songwriter and Holbrook was the arranger, so future recordings will probably not sound like this, but Oh Orwell has them firing on all cylinders. Charnely is as confidant painting metaphors about love as she is writing from the perspectives of other people (and animals, as we’ll see). Holbrook’s multi-instrumental talents shine throughout, with him playing keyboards, three different horns and more.
Not one song is similar to another; each new tune feels like you are pulling a new flavour from a bag of assorted jelly beans. “Golden Gourmande” is mint flavoured; the syllable “oh” in the song is sung with a group howl as Charnley gently sings about savouring a love that was almost lost. “Stray Dog de France” is one of those fancy Jelly Belly flavours with sweetness and a spicy aftertaste. The song jumps back and forth between slow/moody and quick/passionate unpredictably. “Love and Overlooking the Fire Hazard” is that one indescribably delicious flavour that you can only find a few times in the bag. It’s a fun, funky number about being happy in a relationship and living in a horrible piece-of-shit apartment.
Charnley’s biggest strength as a songwriter is the imagery she conjures. “Spawning Ground” paints vivid pictures of what a salmon sees as it returns to its mating ground, accompanied by gorgeous harp. “Winter Getaway” meets a bush pilot who’s been through some bleak circumstances. The lullaby atmosphere of “Seaweed” makes for a doubly thrilling song; Charnley’s vocals soar to breathtakingly high-register notes as she compares love to seaweed: “You can’t push it away.”
There are so many musical bursts of colour on Oh Orwell that not even a kaleidoscope could contain Plumes. See where the colours lead you.