Ormonde "I Can't Imagine"
From the upcoming album 'Machine'
Out on Hometapes on August 7, 2012
Anna-Lynne Williams and Robert Gomez, nearly strangers, left Seattle and Denton and went to Marfa to make a record. As old loves bled out pink, the color of that month of February, the color of a long-setting sun, they platonically arranged their instruments in a tiny adobe house in the most dreamlike town in Texas. They made ten songs. They called it 'Machine.'
"The machine only works if all our parts give in." So goes the title track, nestled into side A, one of a dozen page-turning clues to what it was like for a man and a woman, this man and woman, to live side-by-side, to finish each other's lines, to speak in chords, to read the paper in the morning, to write a song about it in the evening, and to build a world out of an experiment. "I'd never written lyrics with someone before," writes Williams, "we were writing the words to 'Hold the Water' together and were actually passing slips of paper back and forth to each other. We were too shy to say them out loud."
Robert Gomez, between a prolific solo career and tours with Midlake and Sarah Jaffe, packed a suitcase of sonic sketches to meet Anna-Lynne Williams in the middle. The woman also known as Lotte Kestner, half of the dreamy Northwest early-aught flourishers Trespassers William, and the singer-cum-club-conjurerer on the Chemical Brothers track "Hold Tight London", Williams journeyed from Seattle with the same sprouting notions of the songs that became Ormonde -- a name lifted from Nabokov's "Lolita." Lolita slips trying to say 'or du monde' -- out of this world -- and says 'ormonde.'
Though a longer journey than an album of succinct pop songs, 'Machine' moves along at a heart-quickening pace. The stories it tells open all shapes and sizes of windows to lifetimes of love. The lyrics, printed on the back cover of the LP, are a stumbled-upon diary of silver-tongued impressions. And the music: when you hear the guitar strum, when you hear Gomez breathe in, when you realize you're hearing the corners of a small room in a small house, and when William's voice pours over it all like slow rain, you aren't surprised when an accordion appears, and when a Mellotron hushes the scene. Machine is as intimate as waking up to someone singing alone and as grand in composition, performance, and capture as the unfading records you might find yourself comparing it to: Emmit Rhodes' 'Emmitt Rhodes,' Blonde Redhead's 'Misery is a Butterfly,' and The Cardigans' 'Long Gone Before Daylight.'
Almost any song on 'Machine' could be the opening track or the single, every track a cocktail of two masterful musicians shaking vigorously to make a complete thought. Listen on headphones and the album glistens like modern architecture, revealing all its parts and the stamp of its makers. Gomez shows his roots, part of a contemporary lineage of melodians grown in North Texas (think St. Vincent, Tim Smith and Midlake, Tim Delaughter and The Polyphonic Spree, Daniel Hart, Matthew Gray, and Tacks, The Boy Disaster). A constant creator and his own kind of tricknologist, Gomez found the house in Marfa and set the scene. You can't deny or unhear that 'Machine' is a glowing mark on his timeline. "We were figuring it out all at once. Each other as people, the strange place where we were, the sounds, the songs, the rhythm of the town. It was a very rare time," he writes. "I can't recall another point in my life where I spent a whole month just thinking about and making music from when we got up to when we went to sleep." Months later, his good friend (and ex-wife) created the cover art for 'Machine.' Completing the loop, and perhaps starting a new one.
Making music is also about living, about the in-between times, and about where you are. The standout track "Sudden Bright" -- a true child of the affair, started from scratch in Marfa -- was inspired by a newspaper story about a raging fire that began in a nearby town, charring acres of land. It prompted one of the album's greatest lines, one that dares you to create your own mental vista: We can watch the end of the world from here. The album's opener, "I Can't Imagine", is as devastating as it is gentle, a note passed back to a fan across the Atlantic who had written Williams, while she was in Marfa, about his time in the military: "I could tell you, for instance, that dead bodies are heavy and difficult to carry." It's oddly fitting that Ormonde's opening statement is the only song where Williams kept her scratch vocal take. Recorded as a placeholder with a bad microphone, it could never be beat. Two songs later, the duo dives headfirst into an exquisite cover of Serge and Charlotte Gainsbourg's "Lemon Incest", translated into English and as sketchily-seductive as the original. Replace father and daughter with Gomez and Williams. Ormonde was born in a bed of risk.
'Machine,' the album, is a diorama with no detail neglected. Beyond the humming gear, the adobe house, Marfa and its empty streets, and the nightly certainty of pure darkness, there was wilderness. Anna-Lynne Williams and Robert Gomez went right for it. In ten songs, they not only mapped their road to West Texas, but they mapped their road home. What happened there is now ours. What happened there is Ormonde.