Release Date: Feb 17, 2017
Record label: Atlantic
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
On Terrible Human Beings, the Orwells temper the brashness of their 2014 breakthrough, Disgraceland. Throughout, the Chicago garage-rock revivalists harness their considerable energy and wield it with more precision. In tandem with the reining in of their signature thematic focus on debauched recklessness with a shift toward inward reflection about the consequences of those actions, the band refines their previous lo-fi aesthetic—composed largely of Mario Cuomo's wailing vocals buried under squalls of guitar—with smoother production, a wider array of tempos, and a broader vocal range.
The Orwells started making music when they were in high school, and their first two albums had a high-spirited, suburban-bros-coming-of-age feel and a simple, effective guitar rock crunch. On the quartet's third album, Terrible Human Beings, the group and producer Jim Abbiss streamline their sound into something slick and punchy, suitable for modern rock radio but still bratty beneath the high-pro gloss. The album has a very post-Nirvana feel, harking back to the days when major-label A&R people were signing up every decent rock band with a pulse and an attitude.
The Orwells are the result of the two forces of American coastal punk and alt-rock metamorphosing in an angry and bored group of Midwestern teen musicians. Pulling from a broad range of guitar driven influences, the Illinoisans started making music early and released their debut, Remember When, before they had even graduated high school. Following their Atlantic Records debut Disgraceland, and their infamous David Letterman Late Night performance, they became somewhat well known as the punky kids that make snobbish and infective garage rock songs.
Declaring Pixies-inspired songwriting and naming a track "Black Francis" may get people listening to The Orwells' third record, Terrible Human Beings, but it may not be enough to keep them listening. There are definite similarities to the '80s alt-rock icons. "Buddy" and "Heavy Head" borrow heavily from Pixies' fast-paced rhythms, short powerful guitar bursts, and punchy vocals.
The Orwells are five dudes from the suburbs of Chicago playing a codified style of garage rock, like so many suburban dudes before them. But despite what you may have read about the impending obsolescence of groups exactly like this one, the Orwells signed to a major label before they turned 21 and were quickly thrust towards enviable font size on festival lineups and a career-making performance on "Late Show With David Letterman. " There's clearly an under-served audience for a band like the Orwells, and Terrible Human Beings caters to their needs and lets everyone else know they can fuck right off.
Still in their early 20s, the Orwells have already released two albums and toured with Arctic Monkeys. Their third album, Terrible Human Beings, feels like it should be the next precocious step in an upward progression for the Chicago area garage rockers; instead, it's a competent but unspectacular offering that's more likely to reinforce the band's place as indie rock also-rans than take them to the next level. The album's main stylistic gamble (if you can call it that in 2017) is its unabashed embrace of late '80s and '90s alternative rock. The influence of the Pixies is particularly overt, if not a little on the nose (I mean, one of the songs is called "Black Francis").