Out of the many artists I have enjoyed on many autumn hikes and walks around downtown Chicago, I have found much-needed solace in the works of Orchid Mantis. (I could listen to “No Echo” forever.) Thomas Howard’s methodical blends of samples, electronic elements, guitar, and artistry come together into a successful escape route for those deep thoughts—you know, the ones you wish you could place a soundtrack to. His new release, “Yellow House,” is a compilation of works he wrote over the summer, in homage to the yellow houses that have given him the spaces to be an artist. According to his artist statement on the album, Thomas’ attempts (successfully) to place many of the senses within an auditory experience, left to the listener’s will to transcend it into whatever it may become.
The first track, “Lanterns,” opens with spiraling guitar twangs, coiling around a soft drum beat and fuzzy keyboards like waves. It is a summons into a new experience. The beats are a steady basis to “Porch Song,” a track meant to get one trapped into dancing alone, no matter the setting. This is the song I found myself replaying over and over again, to tap my foot on the train platform to keep warm. “Dragged Out Underneath the Lights” seamlessly follows, and at this point, my eyes are fixed on the all of the morning commuters resisting the sun’s rays as they seep into the train car. This is the track where your eyes should be closed. The guitar’s coils are embracing, accompanied by a second (clean) guitar that is maintaining a poppy rhythm and Thomas’ voice beckons. The track ends abruptly, leading into “Sun in Your Eyes,” and this is the song where your eyes should be closed (again, no matter who is looking) as the sun finally caresses your face. The ambience in this track is accompanied by a phased drum beats, subtle hums (?) in the background, and all-around warm.
“Lifted” is a track that seems fitting for getting stuck into a daydream. It’s the one track on the album that reminds of so much of the surf rock that has veined out into dreampop and chillwave. It is a familiar sound, but enveloped into a lullaby fit for the imagination. The track “[Lake Audio]” taps into experimental music with various samples and instrumental sounds that conglomerate into an incidental track made for a scene change into a deeper dream sequence. “Rifts” follows with a dreamy, hazy melody that carries Thomas’ vocals to forefront of the song, emphasising a longing for another place. “Phantom Limb” drops a hip-hop beat, adorned with electronic elements in a turn where the album is now dominated by a more upbeat stroll. This is the lunchtime walk, a reinvigorating wakeup from the dream sequence, bringing you back to earth with “Coming Back Around.” This track adds acoustic guitar to a chillwave ambience that forces you to seek its tangibility—the feel of fingertips sliding on steel strings.
The title track, “Yellow House” has to be my favourite song of the album. Whatever comfort Thomas found in the yellow houses of his life can be felt in the chirping innocence of the opening melody. The funk-inspired percussion is uplifting, building anticipation and inspiring a self-soothing sway. It is a beautiful composition, narrating the experience and description of a place with sound. “No Moon (white stars)” has a more expedited pace than the rest of the tracks, blends hip-hop beats with vintage keys and acoustic guitar strums. It leads to a slowed down tempo in the last track, “Dying Light,” the track ready to set me up to come back to reality, the walk back from the train station, the soundtrack to the moment where you wrap up the day in your head, with reversed samples in the background, and sounds of what could be embers, burning it all to leave it behind and look to tomorrow.
Howard accomplishes what he set out to do: create an experience out of an album. There is definitely a lot of intention via the consistent whirls of guitar in each song, making the entire album a meditative piece. His vocals maintain a steady lull, as if intentionally expressed to be conversational, and meant to feel proximal. The album is easy to get lost in because it cultivates (demands, even) a level of intimacy. This is what makes Orchid Mantis’ music so unique. It is almost meant to be listened to while one is alone. The very solace he meant to seek and capture passes onto the listener.
If you’re a fan of Washed Out or Tycho, Orchid Mantis is right up your chilled out alley. Check out “Yellow House” (released November 11, 2018).