PO Box 55462
Atlanta, GA 30308

Wish You Well
2009 CD

The Orphins

It's telling that part of the Orphins' signature sound, which has been described by one fan as guitars that sound "like calypso drums," is thrifty in nature. "That sound is a really cheap consumer guitar pedal made by Korg called the AX1-G," explains Thomas Barnwell, guitarist and singer for the band. "It's one of those multi-effects do-everything pedals, but I managed to tweak it to get a really cool pitch-shifter noise out of it. I use it on almost everything I play, and when I heavily palm mute it, I get the 'calypso drum' sound." That ingenuity could be seen as a metaphor for what the Orphins are in general: a smart, creative group that knows the best things in life aren't always the flashiest.

Appearing on the Atlanta scene with a 2001 seven-inch co-released with the Liverhearts on the then-unknown Rob's House Records, the Orphins have since become one of Atlanta's most vital bands, their longevity as a group making them stand out amongst peers that seem to rise up and disappear equally quickly. "We have seen many bands and venues come and go," says guitarist Daniel Upton. Asked about their position in the community and the band is split. Upton claims, "We just get along as a group and that has kept us together long enough to obtain any sort of 'elder statesman' status that we may have." But it isn't hard to imagine that part of the credit is owed to the band's devotion to their craft and willingness to stick by their vision.

After all, their new release on Adair Park Records, Wish You Well, had a gestation period that would have killed lesser bands, coming more than half a decade after their debut full length, Drowning Cupid. "Well, it was a combination of recording across four studios, putting the production and mixing into someone else's hands, and some of us going to school," says Upton. "We took our time towards the end to make sure that everything was the way we wanted it." That extra time paid off, with Wish You Well expanding and upgrading the eccentric styles of Drowning Cupid without making the anxious, tightly wound energy of that debut disappear. Jokes bassist Jen Upton, "When three to four years have already passed, you might as well make it five, just to get things right."

But it's not just the production or writing that changed in that time, either. Where Drowning Cupid sounds like a band still exploring the margins of hardcore with its start-stop rhythms and driving guitars backing Barnwell and Upton's dueling vocals, Wish You Well has more complicated structures that tweak the formula the group had developed and streamlines it. The sound is a result of diverse influences. Daniel Upton is more interested in the early New Wave groups - like the B-52s and the Cars - as well as bands like Pavement, while Jen Upton prefers the Pixies and the Rentals, harboring girl crushes on Petra Harden and Kim Deal. "All of us have some common likes and dislikes, but there is probably a lot of variety in what we listen to as well," says drummer Max McDonough.

Regardless of what inspired it, Wish You Well is one of the better Atlanta releases from the past few years, with its sound less dependent on already well-traversed styles. The guitars on the album are startling in their tone and intensity and Barnwell's "calypso drum" rhythm playing is unlike anything else you'll hear. The band makes their rare, mutant sound seem organic and natural, particularly on "In the Dark," an eerie, haunting number that sounds like Q and Not U teaming up with Animal Collective - slightly tribal drums with angular, wiry guitars and those gentle, yet disarming vocals.

The eccentricity is refreshing in the wake of other area groups that rely on pillaging 40-year-old records and being a childish spectacle. "It would be nice if Atlanta bands made headlines for something of substance and represented the scene well," says McDonough, "but I guess you can't have everything." The Orphins recognize the publicity generated from acting out isn't all bad, though. According to Barnwell, "people get excited about bands from Atlanta coming to their towns to play, which I think is definitely a result of Deerhunter and Black Lips blowing up." That attention might help groups like the Orphins in the long run, but the band isn't exactly looking to start branching out into Atlanta's bigger venues just yet.

Part of the charm of the band, after all, is that they're still just as willing to play "some kid's living room" as a club. Unlike bands that get noticed and leave behind the DIY circuit completely, the Orphins don't see a reason to leave behind shows that got them where they are. Some of this is due to the audiences at those house shows. "People tend to let loose a little more; arms unfold, hands get out of pockets," explains Jen Upton. Wish You Well is the type of album that benefits most from this approach as well, its songs practically begging to be shouted along to by sweaty fans in a damp basement rather than cooler-than-thou hipsters sipping PBRs in an otherwise empty bar.

There's no reason why Wish You Well can't win over new listeners for the group, but it's clear that it'll happen on the band's own terms. The Orphins have been especially eager to support the growing seveninch industry, releasing many of their best works as singles rather than stuffing them onto albums. "People want them primarily because they are basically collectors' items, and CDs are basically disposable these days," argues Barnwell, adding "CDs really only serve two purposes these days, and thatís to get radio and press attention."

While the band utilizes digital media as well, they've found vinyl offers a more sustainable solution for them. "As CDs have become more obsolete, vinyl fills that void nicely," says McDonough. "It's the opposite extreme from MP3s, and seven-inch records are also cheaper to produce than full length LPs." The collector's market that's grown around the seven-inch has helped as well, with the band benefiting from the attention Atlanta's Rob's House Records has acquired in particular, a label they themselves played a part in the creation of. What's certain is that the Orphins have quietly brought themselves to a level where they're releasing singular, innovative records without depending on schtick or shock, helping foster their community along the way. Wish You Well reflects the ingenuity and craft that's enabled the band to thrive as long as they have."

By Morgan Davis / Performer Magazine