The story of the formation of the Oranges Band is a quirky one in the realm of indie rock: A tour was scheduled and an album was recorded before the band was completely put together in early 2000. Like The Monkees or any number of “boy band” and “girl group” pop superstars, the Oranges Band began with a leading player and then looked to fill in the holes around him. For the Oranges Band, this man at the helm is Roman Kuebler, a fixture of the Baltimore indie scene and stand-in bass player for Spoon. Kuebler assembled a competent quartet of musicians to surround him and before you could say “Davey Jones,” the band signed a contract with Lookout! Records.
The Orange sound is a familiar one: There’s a heavy Velvet Underground influence, when VU was at it’s most commercial, that is (nothing on the Oranges Band’s latest album, All Around, comes close to the avant-garde murkiness of “Sister Ray,” but more R&B-dominated VU tunes are rekindled on the album). The constipation-rock of endless foreplay that Lou Reed reveled in for so many years is definitely in there, but it’s also a cousin once removed—that middle step would be another VU-influenced band such as R.E.M. And, just like the early days of Michael Stipe et al., Kuebler shows promise if he’ll just let his guard down and reveal himself through his music.
On All Around, the lyrics are often garbled behind the instrumentation, as was Stipe’s former calling card, although the Oranges at least have the courtesy to include lyrics in the liners. But even when Kuebler’s dynamic tenor does break free from the barriers of bass, drums and guitars, his words are aloof at best and drivel at worst. The lyrics to the new album’s title track read, in their entirety: “All around/I see these bricks on the ground/-Everyday/I thought I heard him say/We are lost/Don’t try to change the course/Cause on the sea/It’s only you and me/And we’re drowning down/Without a sound/And without a trace/I will be erased.”
Well, yeah, if you keep writing lyrics as untenable as those, you surely will be erased, at least from the history books of rock ’n’ roll. Lou Reed was aloof, too, but he was saying something in his detached state. There is no indication that Kuebler’s lyrics are working for anything besides style points.
That said, the music is still more interesting than much of the indie rock circulating through the bubblegum wind-tunnel. Guitarists Dan Black and Virat Shukla join Kuebler’s strumming to build promising variations on a theme that often lead down fresh avenues and alleyways. Its beauty is in its simplicity. Even the Oranges Band’s most esoteric digressions tend to keep a steady and tidy white-boy backbeat from drummer Dave Voyles (adding a touch of irony to the fact that the band recorded its latest album at the Michigan studio that features a mixing board formerly belonging to Sly and the Family Stone).
The Orange asset is Kuebler’s voice—a warm and inviting tone that brilliantly slides up and down, zs for very long. With any luck, this band will evolve just as R.E.M. did. All they need is some confidence, really. To create something great means taking a risk, and taking a risk involves the possibility of falling flat on one’s face. The Oranges Band is making fairly safe music right now, but some of their more unusual b-sections show glimmers of what could be. Kuebler will have to lead the way with his lyrics, though.
David Byrne got tired of singing about buildings and food. Likewise, Michael Stipe eventually decided to get personal, to give something to his listener after he finished with singing about, er, whatever it was he was singing about on Murmur. Music fans can only hope that the Oranges Band blossoms in a similar fashion. All the ingredients are there. Now the band just has to have the guts to throw them into the pot and start stirring. And with any luck, they’ll be one of those bands that are best appreciated live, whose sound can’t be captured in the studio. Their latest album is not only safe but neat—too neat. For that, the fault may lie as much with the album’s producer as with the band itself. Either way, let’s hope their live show is a little less polished.