The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina – Casualties (LP)

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Ryan Shivdasani peppers the lean rhythm guitar riffing opening “Anarchy Reloaded” with tasty rock flourishes punctuated by his clean six string tone. The flourishes are often inventive and mark important transition points throughout the opener of The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina’s third album release Casualties. The same laconic vocal style we heard on the first two albums resurfaces here and Shivdasani has learned how to bring added emotional bite to his singing that seemed nascent on the earlier albums. It is an uptempo, yet restrained, first track nevertheless stoking the album’s energy out of the chute; drummer Danny Wolf lays down a solid groove Shivdasani and bassist Michael Feinberg lock into from the beginning.

“Have Mercy on Me” has more of the off-kilter feel we’ve come to expect from Shivdasani and his cohorts. The song, for the most part, has a balladic texture, but understated tempo shifts built into the arrangement take the track in a different, if not unexpected, direction. I particularly admire the emotive qualities of Shivdasani’s singing, a quality he develops further with each new release. The first three plus minutes of “Burn” frame the track as a languid, acoustic laced ballad before the song hits a brief yet lyrical electric guitar interlude. It transforms into a rousing fast paced raver for the remainder of the track.

“Definitely Not My Underwear” dispenses with the more thoughtful textures of the previous songs in favor of an outright rock attack anchored by Danny Wolf’s drumming and Jack Redford’s authoritative bass playing. There’s definitely ample humor present in this performance, but it’s idiosyncratic and boasts a skewed surrealistic quality we would only hear on a Merrymaker’s Orchestrina album. “Thinking About You”, included in demo form on The Little King & the Salamander, expands on the wind-swept epic feel present in its earlier form and once again proves how acoustic dominated arrangements can carry the same weight as their electric counterparts in the right hands.

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“Space Robot”, the album’s penultimate tune, has a light touch as well, but escapes exhibiting any folky trappings. Instead, The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina emphasizes style in a different direction – it has a light dream-like vibe thanks to the thin layer of echo and double-tracking applied over Shivdasani’s voice and the overall mood of the recording. Casualties finishes with the track “The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina”. It’s a song with a stronger jazz influence than anything else we’ve heard on this release and is, arguably, the most daring moment on the album both musically and lyrically. The adventurousness leads the band into upending listeners’ expectations in a sharper manner than before as the track morphs into something recognizable, yet different, during its ferocious final quarter.

The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina score in a major way with their third release. Casualties is, in comparison to the band’s previous releases, a little more restrained, but the trio’s penchant for challenging their audience remains robust. The album benefits from well honed production and a clear artistic vision while so many of Shivdasani’s contemporaries and peers seem like they are groping in darkness for their own equivalent. We hear no such groping on Casualties. Instead, The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina play with palpable confidence and sound like a band who on a steady ascent towards the peak of their powers.

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Michael Rand

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