Melody, Rhythm, and Blue: Samuel Orson’s “Cascadia”
On June 1, Seattle based performer Samuel Orson released “Cascadia” into the world. A single guitar gives life to six tracks on this record, becoming something of a marvel at the hands Orson. The artist’s unorthodox playing style, and penchant for innovation leaps out at the listener who is simultaneously floored by the range of musicianship and the quality of songwriting on “Cascadia.”
Track one, “Giraffe” should have you interested before you know exactly what it is you’re getting into. The song is playful, and lovely, showing obvious skill, but not in a showy way. The movement into the song’s coda at 2:15 should demonstrate that the songs are not meant to be showy. They are certainly filled out, though it must be clear that the songwriting is of equal importance. That chord change into the coda is simple, and good.
“Monica” follows, and it is equally brilliant. It’s absolutely the kind of thing you might want to see live at a coffee shop around 6pm. And this seems to be a facet of the record’s aesthetic. From its soft colours, and fonts, to the lush plant and coffee mug in the fore of the album art, the record’s visual aspects stand up to and compliment its soundscape. Though Orson calls it “yoga music,” you expect that’s a joke. Part of the charm is its dynamic range. From soft harmonic picking, or tapping, to louder, emphatic strumming each song is its own micro-epic.
I was less sold on track 3, “Cookie Jar.” That is, until I saw this video. The song itself is so drowsy sounding. It comes off like the soundtrack to a rainy afternoon in Orson’s hometown of Seattle. As you see the large, exaggerated strokes of the guitar it all makes sense- the movements have a slow, almost tired quality to them. The song has a pulse best understood when you see it in action. The melodies are beautiful, but magnified by the movements of Orson in plan view. It also helps that there is a turtle in the shot.
“Nikita” is a song that could have been more effective earlier in the record. I was waiting for the songs to get a little bit of percussion. Its introduction here- just those hits every bar- pick you up after a couple of slower-paced songs in a row. The song is followed by “Orcas Island,” and though it sounds kinda funny, this song is just really cool song. That little theme repeated quite often is a really, really…cool part. It’s melodic, and rhythmically interesting in a way that makes it impossible for me to say anything else about it. And though the song itself is the most disjointed of all six, this is not a fault. This quality keeps you invested in the chord movements, but also in the evolution of parts, and in the rhythmic arc of the story. It’s as though you’re always just a step behind, trying to catch up, as Orson brings you to this strange, imagined island. I almost don’t want to spoil it for you, but there is a surprising and resounding chord somewhere in the middle that just stops you in your tracks. You become rapt by this heavenly, open, major chord. And then off you go again after a short rest. It’s bardic, really. And the playing: it’s sloppy, but like, honest-sloppy, if you will.
“Cascadia,” the record’s final track, is a tutorial in polyrhythms. Though for all of its charm, and beauty, I can’t help but feel the penultimate song of this record should have actually been its final track. The song ends well, but does not end the record well. There is a quick and unexpected switch to a minor chord that has been danced around for the entirety of the track- which is nice- but the song ultimately descends into some madness that I can’t help but feel doesn’t fit what is otherwise a well-curated aesthetic. It’s perhaps a choice I don’t agree with but that’s not to say it isn’t impressive stuff.
Give the record a download on Orson’s Bandcamp. It’s Pay-What-You-Can for some really exciting stuff. Well done.