There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
The Blue Orchids
It took Mark E. Smith seven albums to fully realize the pop potential of the Fall’s glorious din, but it took Una Baines and Martin Bramah only one. With the Blue Orchids’ 1982 LP, The Greatest Hit (Money Mountain), Smith’s Bingo-Master’s Breakout!-era bandmates put a tunefully psychedelic spin on their old group’s version of post-punk noise and repetition, adding both swirling keyboards and quasi-mystical lyrics to the scrubby guitar and mumbled-to-yelped vocals. Baines contributed the keybs and Bramah most of the words, so A Darker Bloom: The Blue Orchids Collection’s last couple of tracks, culled from an Unaless early-’90s comeback, sound a little unbalanced. But the rest of this career-spanning compilation is right on the Money, featuring eight of the album’s 10 tunes and a slew of contemporaneous 7-inch and EP cuts. “Work” pairs Baines’ creepy B-movie organ and a skittery cymbal pattern with Bramah’s hoarse-and-hoarser vocalizing. “I’ll buy a boat/I’ll keep it afloat/I’ll sail the sea/The motion’s pulling at me/We’ll be the salmon swimming against the tide/The golden salmon swimming against the tide of life,” he barks, and then rasps into the refrain: “Work, work, work, work, work, work…” “Sun Connection” incorporates breathy background vox and a nifty interlocking guitar-and-keyboard groove into the mix, but continues the fuck-the-system-and-get-back-to-nature vibe: “Heads of iron, wearing balls and chains/Nothing to rely on, playing with fire/Hearts that burst when we salute heaven.” And “Bad Education,” with its jangling acoustic guitars and kinda-almost-really-singing vocals, ups both the songcraft and the social critique. “I think I’ve read too many books/Seen too much TV/I think I paid too much attention/To a bad education,” intones Bramah, just before Baines unwinds a squiggly organ solo and the lovely little chorus comes in: “Let’s touch the flesh of the breeze and feel release.” Going off the grid has never sounded so appealing—or more retrofuturistic. But as good as those tracks are, A Darker Bloom includes better: the breakneck, spiralling “Dumb Magician”; the sci-fi surfy “A Year With No Head”; and, especially, the relatively uncomplicated “Agents of Change,” whose Fall-like four-note guitar riff and detuned bass fills demonstrate that the Orchids could beat Smith at his own game even without trying too hard-uh. —Leonard Roberge