I Can Hear The Heart Breaking As One—A Guide To Orchid Tapes

By Stuart Oakes

In 2010, an introverted Ontario College of Art and Design student named Warren Hildenbrand was trying to get his Bradford Cox-inspired solo project, Foxes In Fiction, off the ground. After being motivated by the various tiny, DIY cassette labels he kept coming across, Hildenbrand decided to start a personal label, one designed to give himself a cheap and proper (read: non-Myspace) way of releasing his music. He named it after a Deerhunter song, “Tape Hiss Orchid”, and ran it out of his student apartment in Toronto.

Flash forward five years: an introverted Toronto university student is sitting down in his apartment to write a starter-kit for one of the most exciting small labels in North America. That student would be yours truly, and the label is Orchid Tapes, who happen to be celebrating their fifth anniversary this week. Following a jump to New York in 2012, Orchid Tapes has become a collective haven for young DIYers interested in honing in on their emotional experiences. Thanks to this focus on personal resonance, and Hildenbrand’s keen eye for talent (alongside that of new partner Brian Vu), the label has attracted a reputation for impeccable quality; impressive considering they have 47 releases so far and boast of at least 18 signed artists. Plus, almost all of their music is available for free download (student life!).

So in honour of the label’s fifth anniversary (February 13th) and the fact that I have been compulsively digging through their catalogue and making my friends listen to every treasure I come across (there are a lot of them), here is a list of some of my favourites.

Foxes In Fiction – “Ivy Drips”

Foxes In Fiction, Hildenbrand’s personal project, has released two official albums so far, the most recent of which is 2014’s gorgeous Ontario Gothic. Although “Ivy Drips” is not from that record – I believe it is actually just an old demo that someone found and stuck in a Soundcloud mix – the two share the same dreamy, sometimes-ambient-sometimes-pop sound that has become the group’s calling card. The guitar is woozy, there are bells, Nancy Sinatra sings about only living twice, and everyone moves in slow motion.

Infinity Crush – “Happy Hour”

Infinity Crush is two Maryland natives, Dan Cordero and Caroline White, and “Happy Hour” is off their 2013 album, When We’re Snow. In a lot of ways, Cordero and White represent the typical Orchid Tapes project: they write modest, low-key songs that struggle with devastating emotions and the fallout from devastating emotions. “Happy Hour” is two achingly gorgeous minutes of two voices and one acoustic guitar tackling love, melancholy and heartbreak.

Alex G – “Boy”

Speaking of modest, low-key and devastating, Alex G might be the poster boy for everything the label has striven to achieve. The Pennsylvania native (born Alex Giannascoli) is an ascendant star: he was the subject of a Rolling Stone profile, is currently on a tour of North America (I caught his show in Toronto a couple of weeks ago – it was really, really good, and very, very sold out), and his various Bandcamp albums are all getting official reissues. He deserves it all. An incredible, intricate songwriter, Giannascoli will nonchalantly wreck you, teach you something, and then put the pieces back together in time for the chorus.

Four Visions – “Terra”

Four Visions is the work of New Yorker Daniel Abary, and “Terra” is his triumphant contribution to Orchid Tapes’ Angeltown II compilation (put together for an LA showcase). Building from a stripped down intro up into a fire-burner that will get everyone pogoing (or at least gets me pogoing), the whole thing is a breezy blur that feels a minute and a half shorter than it actually it. That means you will listen to it at least twice. Also, I am a sucker for early Youth Lagoon-like melodies.

The Bilinda Butchers – “Golden House” (ft. Sarah Psalti)

The Bilinda Butchers, a San Francisco group, are a different animal. Although they generally build their brand of dream-pop (yes, they are named after that Bilinda Butcher) from repetitive guitar lines and a muscular rhythm section, the group has a tendency to occasionally go all left field with their influences. “Golden House”, off their 2014 release HEAVEN, switches to synthesizer in order to bring about a shoegaze-as-seen-through-some-sort-of-Eastern-pop-lens effect.

Ricky Eat Acid – “In My Dreams We’re Almost Touching”

Ricky Eat Acid is Sam Ray, a Brooklyn/Baltimore artist who is also behind no-fi group Julia Brown, and at one point fronted beloved cult band Teen Suicide. Sometimes he does dance, sometimes he does drone. He is also great live. Honestly, you should download all of his stuff because everything is amazing and I cannot do it justice with one song.

Elvis Depressedly – “Inside You”

Elvis Depressedly is South Carolina musician Mat Cothran, who is also behind popular group Coma Cinema. Elvis is more shambling, very-lo-fi rock and carries all the Orchid Tapes hallmarks: sincerity, directness, melancholy, but also comfort. Off his 2013 tape Holo Peasures, “Inside You” has a chunky guitar tone and a hint of the 1960’s in the air.

Yohuna – “Badges”

Yohuna is Berlin-based artist Johanne Swanson, and “Badges” is a smoldering contribution to 2014 label-compilation Boring Ecstasy that feels simultaneously intimate and dreamy. Swanson has not released a lot of music yet, but what is out there seems to focus a lot on reaching out and emotionally connection with others, whether it be through pain, love or something else. As such, she is a better fit with the other artists on this list than the difference between musical styles (and continents) might suggest. At the very least, “Badges” is a great song.

R.L. Kelly – “Wake Up”

R.L. Kelly – the California based Rachel Levy – is a personal favourite, and has been for quite some time. A kindergarten teacher by day, she makes stripped down, simple and powerful music, often with little more than a guitar and her vocals. Her songs are easy going down, and I have on many occasions fallen asleep listening to one of her albums, but she is also perhaps the label’s bluntest lyricist. “Wake Up” is from her 2014 split album with Spencer Radcliffe, Brown Horse. I firmly recommend her discography.

Fog Lake – “Lost Love Letters”

Fog Lake, a fellow Canadian named Aaron Powell hailing from St. John’s, Newfoundland, is a solo project I discovered while writing this article and he has been the only person I have listened to since. “Lose Love Letters” is the final song on 2014’s Virgo Indigo. It is currently my favourite song on this list.

 

 

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