EP Review of Valerie Orth: Wake You
If you’ve seen my review of Valerie Orth’s prior album or have seen the Geoff Wilbur’s Music Blog Facebook posts (like this one) urging you to attend some of her shows, you already know I think Valerie is a transcendent musical talent.
At her core, Valerie Orth is an electric guitar-wielding rock ‘n roll singer-songwriter. And as much as she dabbles in other musical genres and production techniques, blending their styles with her own, sometimes treading lightly and at other times diving all-in, her musical explorations are those of a versatile rock artist. As such, she’s doing what famous musicians like David Bowie, Prince, Sting, and others have done, taking her song-driven rock ‘n roll approach to other genres, even as she fully embraces those other styles, producing unique, original music worth exploring.
For Wake You, Valerie experimented with new musical approaches, creating her own beats, using all the tools available to a devoted studio rat, delivering an avant-garde, beat-driven alt-pop/rock/more album that carries her stylistic stamp into a new musical landscape.
This album brings forth easy comparisons to Dayton, Ohio’s iconic rock legend Jayne Sachs. (Are people our age old enough to be iconic yet, Jayne? If so, I want to be called an iconic rock journalist.) Vocally, I never previously realized the obvious comparison, though now I can’t miss it. The tone, the edginess, and the ability to reach listeners emotionally with a lyric.
Valerie kicks off Wake You with “Call You My Own,” a song whose beat lurches smoothly forward, purposeful advancement carefully obscured by an almost falling-forward feel to its rhythm. Atop that beat, Valerie serves a light pop lyrical snack, sung sweetly both across and along the beat.
Next up, Valerie presents “Pixie,” one of my two favorites on the EP, though Wake You sports nary a weak spot. “Pixie” deploys a pattern of beat-to-melody, repeatedly building the song’s hook, connected by rhythmic bridges and cheerfully clever lyrics. This song’s simplicity is a ruse perpetrated by its effortless intricacy. It’s worth repeating; Valerie Orth is a master musician and performer.
“Love You Back” is also a beat-driven, light pop song, this one featuring a bridge that hints at hauntedness. And again with the clever lyrics, a key to my heart because I’m (usually, at least) a lyric guy. It’s followed by “Side By Side,” a song whose verses are a tad off-balance, lurching a bit like “Call You My Own” did, flowing into smoother choruses.
Valerie closes Wake You with “Make Your Move,” my other favorite song in this all-too-brief collection, a track that showcases her sweet, crystal-clear, carefully controlled yet emotionally powerful voice. Even though it’s more of a synthesized pop song, it’s structured and feels like a rock song. Elements of ’80s mellow-ish synth-pop-rock, with that heavier sound (more of an album track or concert favorite from the time than a hit), are probably responsible for that rock atmosphere. Song-structure and lyrics are doubly important in such a song, and the brief transitions from verses to chorus seem a bit haunted. Altogether, they almost seem like the sort of song you’d hear from a top DJ. With Valerie, of course, being the exceptionally talented guest musician.
In the months before this release, I knew Valerie was experimenting with beat-making, aware she planned to release an album that took musical risks, but well aware from her previous work that she was musically capable. Still, when one of my favorite guitar-slingers made it clear guitars were not going to feature as prominently on her next release, I was a little trepidatious. But, yeah, Bowie, Prince, Sting… Valerie Orth is a musician. An arranger. A songwriter. And even beyond this EP, she seems to be exploring deeper down her current musicmaking path, with presumably more surprises in the offing, most recently an electronically experimental, uniqely original cover of Radiohead’s “Karma Police.” Worry not, though, that Valerie experiments and tests her limits musically. Worry only if she ever stops.