If there’s a tried and tested technique to attracting a certain kind of music fan to your wares, it’s highlighting the obscure nature of an artist. This approach is applicable in many different scenarios. If you are a reissue label, it’s a positive boon if the album you are reissuing had a limited pressing of 50 copies for friends and family back in 1969. If you are trying to impress your mates who reckon they have heard it all, dig out a bootleg of a band who never officially released any music. If you run a label that releases new work from a current artist, point out the lengthy gaps between albums. Bait the hook like this, and you will soon start luring in the obsessives searching, like audio junkies, for their latest hit.
So we understand the tendency toward hyperbole demonstrated by Somewherecold Records on the release of Contemporary Guitar Music. “If you’re aware of the background, the mythology, then you will know that most of [Orange Crate Art]’s material has never been released,” claims the text accompanying the album. Colour us intrigued, certainly – there’s very little work listed under Orange Crate Art on Discogs, so perhaps there is a massive vault of unreleased material amassed over the years. Except there’s over 20 albums on OCA’s own bandcamp page, a mixture of EPs, albums and soundtracks. So unless we’re talking Prince levels of productivity, this all indicates that the mythology mentioned above is just that – a myth.
Still, the hype man did his job, which is why you have a review of Contemporary Guitar Music before you. The title is rather prosaic compared to some of OCA’s other releases that sound like they could have been popular favourites by Tangerine Dream or Yes back in the day, and that is perhaps due to a stylistic shift from his other recent output. Recent Orange Crate Art EPs have leaned into Tobias Bernsand’s fandom of Brian Wilson, which is understandable given his band’s name; before that, there was a scruffier, shoegaze element to his work. This album is closer musically to the latter, and it retains an endearingly chaotic element. As Bernsand plays all the music himself, perhaps he wants to give the impression of a band starting to gel in a live take on the opening “Stud Phaser.”
“Self-Similarity Fractals” captures the essence of Orange Crate Art on this album; a disciplined guitar pattern swirls around over a dubby bass guitar and drums that shift from a tight Seefeel-esque clanking sound to a looser rhythm mid-way through. Strolling along at a tempo Andrew Weatherall used to call ‘drug chug’, Bernsand lightens this taut groove by adding a hint of steel drums over the top. It’s a favourite ploy of producers who also happen to be Beach Boy devotees, and it works a treat. Bernsand is content to let his tracks slowly evolve over their duration, and they take their time doing so – the opening trio of tracks are all nearly seven minutes apiece. But this allows him to occasionally steer the arrangement in a different direction, to let the music play out in much the same way a group jamming together would operate. Quite how one musician captures this spirit, we have no idea but kudos for doing so.
Bernsand has revealed this is his third attempt at recording an album for the Somewherecold label; it didn’t feel right in 2017 and 2019, but everything clicked into place in June 2021. We’re still unsure about the label’s attempts to mythologise Orange Crate Art’s unreleased work, although they had to wait five years for this so it’s perhaps understandable. Certainly, the jury’s still out on the album’s title – it sounds like it should be a record of acoustic folk guitar for some reason – musically, it doesn’t put a foot wrong. Bernsand has created a gauzy hypnotic sound, taut but still loose, that’s perfect for crashing out to on a sunny afternoon. Contemporary Guitar Music should hopefully see Orange Crate Art shake free of the ‘obscure artist’ tag. (Jeremy Bye)