Tightrope Walker (Misra Records)
This is an album, the second for Sydneysider PJ Orr, that might have slipped by as the world went to shit when it was released earlier this year. Which is a two-fold shame as it isn’t just good, it makes for a good home isolation companion.
Well, it would be a good companion as long as you’re not someone who beams out at the world with the sunniest disposition and a Panglossian trust. Tightrope Walker works best as a mix of comfort/solace for a bruised temperament and never-quite-smooth incentive to step outside and gaze up at the sky.
In the closely-miked piano and creaking/cracking voice of Care A Lot, where Orr sounds like he might be on the end of a long night of indulgence, or the day after a relationship’s failures came to a head, he even offers a kind of epistle for the lonely “searching for a reason”. Not that there’s a solution – he sounds too lost to believe it himself, let alone convince us – but that the route isn’t yours alone.
Mind you, that stark, guitar-free mid-point is the anomaly, or the track-switching intersection of the album, with only the driftwood folk rock of Calypso Crush, a song for lying on your back and counting the stars as the acoustic guitars play li-lo to the inquisitive electric, eased back that far.
The long, winding opening track, Emotional Peacefulness, plays out its guitar reverberations like a southern American band teetering on the edge of psych and a south coast Australian band peering over the rocks to the low surf. Somehow it feels like a city/country melange, as if nature is impinging on an aesthetic that isn’t resisting but is still finding its balance in this new environment.
That feeling of stoned manoeuvres, the suggestion of unease with the options of the night ahead, but enough focus to move through the shadows and shapes, extends into the War On Drugs-like Modern Way and the droopy-eyed serenade of the title track (which returns at the album’s end for an extended foray into low-fried atmospheric rock). “Reach out and touch my hand.”
By now it’s clear that this is the kind of guitar rock that has little concern for swagger, but if the thought that it will stay dreamy lands, that notion is disabused immediately with Fkd Up. It’s not much more imposing than the tracks preceding it – though the drums have more cut-through - but there’s an edge to the dry delivery, an almost querulous flintiness beneath the wavering voice.
For a proper shift in tempo and energy you have to wait a few tracks for the Velvets chug/Dinosaur Jr roiling pulse of Risk, which accelerates out of the drive, hits its mark and then holds that speed through the turns and cut-corners of the backstreets. This is an escape played out at night to feel the air move, not to get away.
More often though, as with Why Did You Go Away? and Markets, that vague sense of an inner tension held back, or maybe its edge blunted by something (medicinal/herbal/spiritual), remains the album’s defining sensation. It transports you from the solid to the just-blurry enough to make you feel like staying inside, staying inside your head even, won’t be the end of you as long as you can sneak that look at the open sky, those flickering lights, that other world near enough to almost hear even if it’s close to you for now.