Orchid Mantis is an act that just assumes the mantle of the unnassuming. Quietly doing his thing among the twisted parameters of post-punk, jangle-pop and lo-fi, you have to dig as far as his Tumbler blog before finding out his name is Thomas Howard.
Without overtly courting attention, his music is starting to drift slowly into critical focus, with Slovakian cassette label behemoths (yes…there is nearly such a thing) Z Tapes following this cassette release with a vinyl release of his 2018 Kulla Sunset album, after it was selected in a recent fan ‘what vinyl do you fancy’ poll by label fans.
This album merely accentuate the reason for such a growing appeal. Essentially, Howard has ‘twang’ and knows exactly how, when and why, to use it with the tracks imbued with the most obvious/traditional of beauty, like Within and Apart, Never Know Why and Even In Dreams.
These provide spacious, slightly gaze inflected, obvious melodies, that draw the listener in to their sense of stunning, before sporadically piercing their core with sudden spikes of twanged notes and riffs. It is the atypical musical trick of a man who would hate to let his listeners ‘settle’. It’s possibly his best apposite position.
The twang becomes more of a foundation within more desolate isolation of tracks such as Can’t See Anymore, Keswick Park, Tell and Light Beyond (Right Now), that take a jangly post-punk edge and tether everything to dominant, isolated twanging riff(s). It’s a technique used with perfect effect within the Dunedin sound, but somehow this sort of 17 Seconds (The Cure) feel just gives it added credence.
It is perhaps a bit churlish of me to separate the tracks into to the distinct ‘feels’ above. For this is one of those albums that never threatens to step away from a unifying atmosphere that allows the album to flow as if it is one elongated track.
With the spotify generation able to slap, dash and dribble through an album as ifit were merely a collection of singles, it is the need to put all the pieces together that probably means it takes a while for Howard’s music to finally sink in.
However, once it does and the musical jigsaw is completed, it restores total faith in the reason why the concept of ‘the album’ will always survive, even when faced with the terrors of today’s ADHD musical generation.