The Orbweavers: Deep Leads

- The Orbweavers are an unusual figure in the Australian music landscape. Almost vanishingly shy and quiet, both in their music and their public profile, there is, still, something insistent about them. It’ll get you, like a snake that slides slowly, imperceptibly, in through the window at night, then through your ear, into your head, coiling about your mind and -squeezing-.

On their third full-length, the Melbourne duo, comprising vocalist Marita Dyson and guitarist Stuart Flanagan are still doing what they do best: ghostly folk music with licks of old country music and the barest memory of the soft-rock of yesteryear. On this new LP, Deep Leads, there’s some other things secreting themselves aboard, but it’s worth understanding the essentials of The Orbweavers’ oeuvre first.

Marita Dyson’s work as a museum curator and a researcher is so easy to sense in her music and her lyricism that it almost seems a cliche: the intense, even severe young woman, locked away, poring over her studies in the enveloping silence. This is the source of the quiet but oh-so-precise little stories she tells, rich with detail, delivered in almost half-voice, a whisper, but with diction that’s unnervingly sharp, enough to cut right through the shroud of reverb.

Deep Leads is, once again, literally drawn from her involvement with the history of natural sciences for The Museum Of Melbourne and thus so intimately tied to her hometown. The record’s blurb enthusiastically relates how the songs delve into industrial and agricultural history and even specific minerals: honestly it really sounds more like a museum exhibit than a rock record, right? Dyson, however, has the skill and, moreover, the artistic freedom to weave human and highly emotional stories around the bare, factual bones. My favourite song on the album, Radium Girls, builds the tale of a group of factory workers from the 1920s. With consummate grace Dyson elicits the gothic horror of a group of young women slowly being poisoned by the radioactive chemicals with which they worked and, improbably, transmutes it into a thing of luminous beauty; please forgive the pun.

The lyricism is clearly as strong as on previous Orbweavers records, but if you’re looking for the band to demonstrate how they’ve grown, I think you’ll find more of that in the music itself. The folk and country songwriting is joined by some really enlivening new elements. Cyclamen calls in salsa rhythms, which puts a whole different slant on this ode to the flower that is the symbol of the patron of poison, medicine and magic, Hecate: imagining the goddess cutting a cunning dance through the garden is really very evocative.

Deep Leads revels in this kind of musical exotica. You only need to go to the next number, Poison Garden, to find the band upping the ante on their usual country fare by going the full Lee Hazlewood: the string and guiro backing adds a level of seductive corruption that I don’t think I’ve heard from The Orbweavers before. They seem unafraid, ready to embrace things that might have seemed beyond the remit of their shadowy, gothic world up till now. I remember Dyson describing a song, Double Thread,  from their previous record, Loom, as their best impression of The Andrews Sisters. It was a fine song but, honestly, if you think that sounds like The Andrews Sisters then you’re not doing it right. Deep Leads, however, is happy to play with mood and melody in a way that expands the range of the band to a large degree. For evidence please listen to the likes of Invertebrate City doing really rather winning ‘60’s girl-group harmonies.

In introducing this record I realise I focused on the subtle horrors of The Orbweavers. That unique appeal is here, the barbs that grab, insistently, the fangs not in the least bit dulled by time. Deep Leads’ musical moves, however, are quite new. I'm sure, given the focus of the record that I should express it in terms of toxic, heavy metals, but let me use another of its themes: it has a honied lure, like pollen spilling forth as an exotic flower opens it petals. Or maybe that’s just how it seems to your intoxicated mind: you’ll only realise too late that it’s a snake swinging wide its jaws. Whatever the case, I invite you to be enveloped by The Orbweavers.

- Chris Cobcroft.

Album Details

Album Title: Deep Leads
Artist: The Orbweavers
Record Label: (Mistletone)