What Fools We Can Be,” the second song in the 14-track collection of buzzing ballads and righteously rhythmic rockers that is The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina’s new album Little King and the Salamander (demos), isn’t the only slow song that we’ll hear in this retro-style indie fantasy, but its lightly overdriven guitar grooves will make it one of the more memorable along with the chilling “Fade into the Night,” which sets us up for the closing jazz wails of “I Have Always Been Here” better than any other tune could have. In songs like these, as well as the contrition-soaked crooning of “Slip Away (Dreamin’ Again),” the Gallagher brothers-esque “She’ll Do Anything,” and the midcentury melancholy of “I’ll Be (Kisses at Your Door),” we get to experience the acoustic prowess of The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina in a way that I never would have imagined finding on an album allegedly comprised of demo tracks exclusively. The balladic harmonies that these recordings offer us are unlike any other that you’re going to hear this season, and confirm what most critics (myself included) already knew about this deeply talented group of musicians.
The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina doesn’t fail to cut loose just enough to satisfy fans of their edgier stuff in Little King and the Salamander (demos), and ascribe themselves to the experimental rock category in songs like “White Light and Lullabies,” “Particle Craze,” “Definitely Not My Underwear,” the eponymous “The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina” (ironically the one song that I found to be the least cohesive with this entire set) and the agitated “Jeepers Creepers,” which is one of my favorite songs of theirs to date. They got off the rails-eccentric in a couple of instances, but to be perfectly frank, I think that this band wears the crazy look in alternative rock better than almost anyone else in their scene does. A lot of artists have been trying to “go old school” in the past 15 years – from garish indie acts like Wolfmother to more erudite crews like Dead Meadow – but I don’t think I’ve ever heard another band that exploits the framework of tradition with the same honest gusto that these guys do every time they get into the studio. If these really are demos, I can’t imagine how potent a performance The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina could put on if they had an unlimited budget to record with.
Whether it’s their hot harmonies or their ice cold groovers, Little King and the Salamander (demos) has got fans of The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina covered this year with 14 songs that you aren’t soon to forget. There’s a ton of good music scheduled to make delivery in both the underground and the mainstream this spring, but I plan on keeping this staple of 2018 spinning on my stereo well into the summer. There are very few bands that evoke the vivid imagery that these cats can just by laying into a righteously vintage riff, and for what I look for in a modern alternative unit, they meet pretty much every expectation I could have as both a critic and a fan.