Astronaut Shows off Samuel Orson’s Amazing Guitar Skills
Samuel Orson is a Renaissance man. Not only did he model in “100 Years of Beauty,” a video montage recreating each decade’s distinct look, he is also a musician. With one E.P., Cascadia, already under his belt, he’s set to release another entitled Astronaut. But is he truly a man of many talents, or does he sacrifice depth for breadth?
“Waterfalls” opens with the sound of water and a few bird caws before a guitar comes in and subverts any notion that Samuel Orson is a dabbler in many things, and master of none. Orson both plucks the strings, creating a sound reminiscent of Ravi Shankar picking at a sitar, and strums a melody that structures the song.
In “Styrofoam Cups,” Orson’s musical skill becomes even more evident as he establishes, then tweaks and complicates, a foot-tapping, head-bobbing melody. As the song progresses and various guitar melodies layer one another, “Styrofoam Cups” becomes increasingly intricate. The guitar melodies are synergetic, filling the small pauses between each other’s notes, and as a result, “Styrofoam Cups” is as complexly multi-faceted and self-contained as a fractal. Towards the end, the track accelerates, becomes delighted, racy.
“Cocaine Princess” opens with a solemn melody that could be background music in a movie about some wayward desperado. But though a desolation lurks in the opening, it maintains a twanging swagger. Then everything fades away, save for an insistent, repeating note, against which arises a slow strumming. The strumming grows, becomes urgent, then breaks into silence . . . before a high-pitched melody lilts into our earbuds. “Cocaine Princess” is heterogeneous and always shifting, and so transforms into an echo-chamber of dextrous and layered strings whose call-and-response is so rapid and on-point that it calls to mind the “Duelling Banjos” scene in Deliverance. Eight minutes long, the track goes through another cycle of harkening back to, and remixing, previous patterns, making use of repetition without being boringly repetitive.
“Astronaut,” at a minute and a half long, and not as virtuosic as “Cocaine Princess” or “Styrofoam Cups,” is a strange song for the album to share its title with. “The Color Green,” which “Astronaut” leads into, seems like it should be the main part of a song for which “Astronaut” should be the intro, especially since “The Color Green” makes use of the pattern in “Astronaut,” but adds Orson’s characteristically seamless overlapping strings. A melody of high, hopeful-sounding, and reverbing notes emerges occasionally, giving the track a nice distinct sound.
“Chocolate Saves” begins intensely, before settling down with a high-pitched twanging that contrasts the lower, grittier sound of snapping strings. The song fades out, giving Astronaut a fittingly graceful ending.
Astronaut is a bravura work of acoustic art, and having learned that Orson is a member of multiple bands, I’m excited to hear what he sounds like in conjunction with several other artists—for the one tiny critique that one could levy against Astronaut is that, at times, it skirted being repetitive. In a band, I imagine instrumental accompaniment would bring a diversity that complements Orson’s virtuosic guitar-playing. As Astronaut stands now, however, it is clear that Orson has found, and mastered, a distinct sound.