You can scarcely imagine Ryan Shivdasani’s The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina getting off to a faster and more impressive start. The trio’s second full length release within a year, Little King and the Salamander, is a fourteen song outing conclusively proving the wildly imaginative eclecticism of the preceding album Act 3 is far from a fluke. The new collection includes outtakes and alternate versions from the Act 3 period, but there’s nothing about this album that feels rehashed, archival, or a step down creatively. Instead, it reinforces the idea that Shivdasani may be one of the most fecund songwriting talents to emerge on the indie rock scene in some time. The wellspring of creativity fueling the band’s last two releases shows no hints of abating and will likely produce even greater future efforts.
There’s a wicked neo-Hendrix/Randy California vibe super-charging the groove on album opener “Hey Everybody”. It’s a largely instrumental track featuring only some scattered scat vocals and Shivdasani exclaiming the title once at the beginning. It’s short, definitely tasty, and has an exuberant swing. “What Fools We Can Be” is a hundred and eighty degree shift in mood from the album and languid, slightly psychedeliczed mood nonetheless never follows a single trajectory; the band punctuates the song with some well paced flourishes adding variety. The title song is one of the album’s most interesting moments. It’s a fiercely individualistic synthesis of pop and jazz with a decidedly artistic edge; the restless tempo transforms the song at numerous points without the song ever losing coherence. It’s an equally memorable lyrical accomplishment as well and Shivdasani delivers it with spot on engaged relish.
“White Light and Lullabies” is expertly miked and invokes a haunted feeling from the outset. It has a steady roll from the first, as well, but Shivdasani writes with an innate sense of dynamics realizing this song’s, among others, potential. The fully realized qualities of the song are embodied by the equal footing given to both the lyric and musical content – it makes for a much more unified listening experience and strengthens the song’s effect on its audience. “Particle Craze” is one of the featured cuts on Act 3 and this alternate version shares many similarities but, ultimately, casts a different spell over those familiar with the earlier release thanks to this version’s more organic feel. The focus feels much more on a straight forward guitar powered number rather than the much different approach Shivdasani and his band mates adopt on Act 3.
“Jeepers Creepers” has a jazzy bite, thanks to its percussion, but there’s a number of slashing guitar fills tossed in for good measure to further fill out a brief bit of wild-eyed free verse poetry. The album nears an end with the song “Fade into the Night” and the track captures the sense of bleary eyed leave taking without ever sounding too overdone and the plaintive emotions Shivdasani lays bare with his voice should once again garner the attention of discerning listeners. The release of Little King and the Salamander, ollowing so soon on the heels of Act 3, initially alarmed me – I liked the earlier album so much and feared the band might be rushing things. Those fears were misplaced. Instead, I found this album to be every bit as rewarding in its own way. It’s a must listen for anyone who loves intelligent and challenging music.
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