Artist: The Ghastly Grimey Orchestra
Title: The Ghastly Grimey Orchestra of New Orleans
Label: Stichy Press Records
Genre: Chamber Folk
23 Shady Grove
This album is compiled from a summer-long attempt at capturing Edward Gorey's “Ghastleycrumb Tinies” (a collection of charming illustrations of the untimely demises of many sallow-faced tots, one for each of the alphabet) in audio form. It surprisingly holds its own as a document of many gypsy-like musicians (and other assorted performers and carnival types) gathered together in a warehouse in New Orleans in the sweltering summer of 2002. New Orleans is home to many transient people whose power can be harnessed by adventurous types, and Willie and Natalia of Stitchy Press are such people. On holiday from Ireland, these young entrepreneurs assembled many otherwise unoccupied talents into a formidable soundtrack-making force.
The sounds range from skewed pop reminiscent of the first Residents LP, or maybe some very disturbed jazz, to very intense atmospheric pieces that retain a very subtle musicality. It should be noted that there are members of this ensemble (including the theremin player) who claim to have spotted a live unicorn on tour with a different group, near an insect museum somewhere in the American Midwest. There is an eclectic and engagingly consistent feeling throughout the album that makes one curious what sort of sounds will come next. Although there are many horns present, it certainly never resembles anything that the average person would recognize as New Orleans music. The record progresses very organically into soundtrack material, and it seems that each member of the Orchestra is allowed their own solo moment, as well as songwriting contributions. This makes for constant surprises and many different guises of the Ghastly story are laid end on end, one after another. Although sometimes drifting into abstract or atonal music, generally the compositions keep things moving at a distinctive aesthetic pace, much in the morbidly charming style of the strips that inspired them. Several of the pieces are disarmingly captivating, easily causing one to lose track of which instruments are being played as the sonic story unfolds.
As can be ascertained by the track listing above, the full Ghastly alphabet was not completed during these sessions, and in fact the songs begin to drift from narrative into a deep wellspring of emotional, wordless vignettes that accompany one in pondering some of the gloomier aspects of the topics that the pieces are covering. There are only a few songs with any vocals, and they are generally very tasteful. Mostly, the music and the morbid sounds and percussion tell a story of a place in between worlds, a living death for dead children and others without a physical presence, still trying to work on unfinished business.
Altogether, the morbid state of affairs is rendered with a very generous palatte, and generally the same sounds are never heard twice. Occasionally, it will all come together magnificently, as on “P”, an excited drunken singalong with many participants that resembles a sinister parade marching band singing a particularly morbid Johnny Thunders. This ends with a very atonal jam that conspicuously resembles the sound of many people playing seperately and carelessly among each other as a fire burns in the light of the pervasive moon. A whip of doom carries the orchestra to oblivion, and the dead children just stay dead. A captivating and entertaining album.