Harmonies and Atmospheres by Orange Cake Mix (Review)

Orange Cake Mix presents a blend of shoegaze, glitch, warm electronica, and pop.
Harmonies and Atmospheres - Orange Cake Mix

For those of you hoping for something to smirk about in our ever-diminishing age of irony, I regret to inform you that this CD contains exactly what the man says, harmonies and atmospheres. Well, mostly atmospheres, which are brewed up on what sounds like a Casio keyboard with lots of delay and reverb. And don’t forget the old school drum machine. Whether or not these keyboards are actually groovy analog synthesizers or not is really beside the point, because within the context of this album, everything sounds very cold, digital, and un-Krauty. Lastly, the majority of the songs are without vocals, with few exceptions.

When looking at the name of the artist, Orange Cake Mix, focus on the word “mix.” That’s what it sounds like this fella (Jim Rao) does best. This does not sound like a band, per se. The sound quality is pretty darn boffo for what I can presume is a home recording based on the way it looks (although they say, you should never judge a box of cake mix by it’s cover). In this age of cheap technology, it is the ever increasing case that every Tom, Dick, and Harry with a Mac and a CD burner can masquerade as a sundry food product and issue his own release. However, Orange Cake Mix deserves more credit than this.

Track 1, “Zzzz,” is curiously faithful to the lost sounds of early Felt and sounds little like the rest of the CD (good move to put an oddball on top). Wispy guitar figures and obtuse scales reinforce the vague emotion put forth by the absent human voice. “Zzzz” makes me feel like winter in the shadow of a Spanish Castle.

“Andthenagain” presents a new style of music which will go on to dominate the remainder of the disc. Layers of synth elope with boobytrapped soft beats in the anteroom of a post-ecstasy afterglow. After listing to all of this glassy hum and static‑y wash, my head is doped to the point where it feels like it’s stuffed. I feel warmed by the vapor of the UFO tractor beam. The sound is perhaps too hushed to make you want to put on your dancing shoes. The beats are not quite glitchy, more just gently fucked with.

When the singer finally makes his introduction on “Less Is More,” he sounds pretty sweet and unobtrusive, bouncing his echo-sopped signal from left to right somewhere between the egg yolks and the orange peel zest. In other words, more like just another synth than a real singer.

“The Surrealist Painter” has a spicy Latin drum beat and electric guitars that sound like killer whales, revealing what may be a shard the almighty My Bloody Valentine influence. “Deluxe Harmonia” draws digital birds in the sky. The librarian-folk of “Safe Inside Your Sky” finds Rao doing his best Georgia Hubley (Yo La Tengo) imitation. A prominently artificial snare drum and a Ronettes backbeat aptly further an alliance with the succulent sounds of another Indie giant, The Magnetic Fields. This final comparison is great for my position, because I have wanted to say all along how much this album sounds like the closing track, “Oahu,” from the last 6ths album, Hyacinths and Thistles.

Written by Jonathan Donaldson.

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