Don’t be fooled by Kyle Nicolaides’ hipster looks – beneath that chic tee aches the heart of a real artist. The LA-based singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist has a taste for ambitious music like Bowie’s Hunky Dory and George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass, and these lofty influences mean the bar’s set high for his band’s debut album.
Orthodox makes a promising stab at creating such a broad musical statement. The 21st century blues rock opener Howl has earned Beware Of Darkness (completed by bassist Dan Curcio and drummer Tony Cupito) comparisons with The Black Keys and White Stripes, and there’s a modern, snake-hipped attitude to the Stonesy Sweet Girl (‘I wish I was a surgeon, so I could rip your heart right open’).
The sound palette’s set to alt. rock, but adorned with interesting instrumental elements: the cello accompaniment to doomy blues Ghost Town, the warm electric piano opener of dewy-eyed romance Amen Amen (loaded with a catchy-as-hell chorus). Co-written by guitar star John 5, All Who Remain considers the death of a loved one, and it’s the sleekest, most controlled song on here, but by contrast, the pumping Heart Attack is all fizzing guitars and disdain.
The band balance dissonance and melody well, Nicolaides casting himself as a heartless bastard who doesn’t care about mothers dying, cancer or education. Such open-hearted drama will attract some and repel others (it’ll be interesting to see how their support slot with the Smashing Pumpkins goes down in July).
Orthodox is split into four sections or ‘sides’: Ignorance, Loss, Depression and Enlightenment, and the most pretentious note comes mid-way through the set. Morning Tea (‘I think my mother died today, or was it yesterday, it’s hard to say’) is flippant, but mitigated by the unusual musical artistry. The hooky End Of The World rests on an infectious Bowie-esque piano riff, the denuded, melancholic Life On Earth could be a Regina Spektor tune, and the time changes and Mellotron of the epic Salvation Is Here imply an experimental bent.
Nicolaides’ vocals can flip from a Kurt Cobain snarl to Jeff Buckley falsetto in a heartbeat. The guy’s 22 and a big Sylvia Plath fan, and here are the thoughts of a sensitive young man. This should be nails-down-the-blackboard stuff for those a little further down the spiritual road, but this rawness only adds to the honesty of Beware Of Darkness’s compelling overture. Hip and tantalising, rich in melody and character, Orthodox introduces a musical mind that is anything but.