It wasn’t but a few years ago when I believed the best music in our culture belonged to the past and even the most talented among younger, more modern generations lacked something I admired in their older, iconic counterparts. I theorized the lack existed because the frame of reference for aspiring musicians today is so much more limited than I experienced as a young man. We are drowning in media, inundated with choices, and our reeling brains satisfying shrinking attention spans with increasingly narrow selections. No one seemed to be in it for the long haul; everything sounded tailored towards the least common denominator, and fixated on familiar themes without any individuality or invention. New York City based songwriter Ryan Shivdasani and his band The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina, however, is evidence for me and any reasonable listener that there are extraordinarily talented musicians and songwriters working today with the ambition to spread their artistic wings as far as they like.
The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina’s Act 3 has thirteen songs with a potpourri of styles. Shivdasani and his musical partners are gifted with obvious chops, but they manage what a lot of top flight musicians can’t – subvert their inclination to exhibit the extent of their skills while still utilizing what they know to extend the song’s appeal. The songs “Particle Craze” and “Watched You Out My Window” lay strongest claim to traditional songwriting, but Shivdasani skewers our expectations with a sonic landscape all his own – rhythms seem slightly off, the vocals are treated with suggestive post production effects, and the latter song may reminds some of 60’s psychedelic pop, melodic, but slightly unsettled in a way you just can’t turn your attention from.
Some listeners may not initially know what to make of “Cowboys and Indians”. In some ways, it sounds like a glorious riff on classic Devo and spiked with a spastic amphetamine rush. Others may hear lightly demented surf music coming through and there’s definitely a punk rock influence bubbling through the song as well. It’s one of the album’s shorter songs, under three minutes, and bristles with kinetic energy from the outset, but listening to the lyrics reveals one of the more thoughtful pieces of Shivdasani writing on Act 3. There’s an aspect of the singer/songwriter to what Shivdasani is doing and the words aren’t afterthoughts in any way.
There are a couple of quiet interludes on the album and the first of them comes with the track “Slip Away”. It’s a folk influenced song, surely a style Shivdasani has thorough exposure to through his own listening and presence in the New York City area, and the recurring vocal harmonies are all the added gloss needed for this song.
“There’s No Such Thing as God” revisits the suggestion of punk influence heard with “Cowboys and Indians” but, this time out, makes no bones about it. It’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but even those uncomfortable with its message can concede it’s an effective tune. “Blood Country” is a wicked good track, but not particularly pleasant – what mitigates it, however, is the cracking musical performance that manages, while paring things back to the barest of essentials for a song, still manages to pack an enormous wallop. The album closes with “Wait Behind”, the second acoustic track, and it’s a little lusher than we heard with “Slip Away” with some melancholic instrumental breaks built in. One can scarcely imagine much better in modern music, at least for a listener like me – The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina Act 3 hits all the marks for me and whets my appetite for more.