Is it a band, is it a group, is it a collective or an ensemble- no it’s the one and only Orchestre Tout Puissant Marcel Duchamp, the multi-European makers of the most essential music that may just have passed you by.
Revolving around the mercurial bassist/composer Vincent Bertholet and emerging from the Geneva avant music scene in 2006, OTPMD (it’s shorter) have always been an intriguing bunch. Ranging from 6 or 18 members at any one time they may be hard to pin down but there is one constant, the dazzling kaleidoscope of post punk, global beats, free flow jazz, brass band and afro- rhythms that the gathering produces.
Curious? Well there may be no better way of getting acquainted with the Orchestre phenomenon than welcoming their new album ‘We’re OK. But we’re lost anyway’ onto your turntable. Available via the infallible Bongo Joe Records from 2nd July and their first album since 2018’s John Parrish produced ‘Sauvage Formes’, it’s a record that requires filing under absurdly brilliant. Playful but plausible, ‘We’re Ok.’ uses the collective’s eclectic starting points and channels their wild energies to make their most coherent record yet. That’s some feat for a group that works with the heady combination of double bass, twin marimbas, strings both folky and formal, big brass and everyone on ‘voix’.
Take ‘Beginnings’ as a pulsating example of what’s going on here. Starting with the foot hard down in the pumping Krautrock area, the song soon stretches out impressively with a tireless bass groove, hyperactive percussion, rampant congas and minimal guitar twists. Top that with urgent vocal proclamations (‘It’s all begun again’) and blasts of low end brass and you get left-field indie dance perfection, a match for LCD or Hot Chip on floor burning form.
It’s a track that signals OTPMD’s sense of purpose with this release, where there is more focus on the whole sound and song rather than how to fit all the pieces together. This new balance comes across again on ‘Empty Skies’, where a powerful orchestral math rock pounding turns uncannily funky and on ‘We Can Be We’, that keeps an afro-beat sensibility at its heart as the strings, brass and heavy guitar swell. But maybe opening track ‘Be Patient’ captures the bonded sound of ‘We’re OK’ most vividly as it morphs from an ominous string driven drone to bass fuelled swing to an immense rock processional. It’s a cut that also highlights the distinct voices in the band, as the lead vocal floats over the gathering musical chaos, to bring a hint of 60’s psychedelia.
There have been these hints of Orchestre Tout Puissant Marcel Duchamp’s vocal strengths throughout their previous releases but on ‘We’re Ok’ their combined and individual voices demand the spotlight. The almost acapella, madrigal flavoured ‘Connected’ and the dark noir stunner ‘Flux’ set male registers against the aching clarity of Aby Vulliamy and Jo Burke’s singing. Then on the brilliant art rock/surf rock/ post punk paean ‘So Many Things (to feel guilty about)’ the two instrumentalist’s voices take centre stage as the self- inflicted pressures of modern day principled living (e.g. driving, flying, mountains of recycling and eating frozen pizza three days in a row) get dismantled OTPMD style.
That political edge to ‘So Many Things’ threads through the whole album giving it added integrity and bite. When the potent closing track ‘Silent’ ends succinctly after its quivering strings and serious messaging, you realise that ‘We’re Ok. But we’re lost anyway’ is a record that demands attention. OTPMD have always been an exciting prospect, fluid, unstable but bursting with ideas. On this new album they’ve been able to harness that compulsive energy to make something exceptional without losing any of their natural spontaneous combustion.