Album Review: racecar – orange car


The urge to pigeonhole when writing about music is stronger than the urge of a pigeon-fancier to build some sort of filing cabinet for his mono-compartmentalised rock doves. It’s the push of the subconscious versus a very conscious attempt at avoiding just listing the names of genres or previous artists. East Lothian trio racecar (the lower-case r makes it a palindrome, see?) make thoughtful, form- shifting pop music. It never veers into the cheesy, yet could never be described as Lo-Fi due to the sumptuous nature of their arrangements and evident virtuosity.

Self-described as a ‘blend of indie-pop, electronic elements, funk and jazz’, Orange Car does feel like there’s a lot more than the quoted influences going on. Yet it’s also impossible to deduce any singular origin for their overall sound. What isn’t hard to discern from racecarinhos [Are we really going for that? – Ed] Izzy Flower, Robin Brill, and Calum Mason, is the sheer scale of their ambition and commitment to songs that evolve through four or five minutes.

Opener ‘Animals’ exemplifies this notion. Broken, glitchy drum patterns rattle underneath Izzy’s playful vocals, which compare the inhabitants of a city to a wider notion of wildlife. The hook, when it comes, has echoes of the steel drum voice on an eighties synth and, no matter how much you want it to stick to a 3-note signature, it insists on making even its catchiest element an embellishment.

The first minute of ‘Nervous’ is a wistful look at the differences between individuals in a relationship but, once the bassline kicks in, it carries an entirely different persona. The bassline in question is incredible – slaps and picks thundering at a pace double that of every other instrument, and all in a funky tone that reoccurs in other tracks.

As if to prove their range and the relative individualism of each of the tracks on Orange Car, ‘Chapter And Verse’, released as a single in March, is a blend of suave, slow, tempo verses complete with 808 rimshot sounds and trebly, reverb-couched guitars, married to an exhilarating chorus shot through with bittersweet lyrical pathos and a start/stop beat.

Latest single ‘Better Than You Know’ is a complicated beast to summarise effectively. The lead vocal melody sounds very like a Michael Jackson song, but I can’t quite pin down which one. The building of elemental layers appears to be a band cornerstone, embodied by the absolutely triumphant trumpet sounds in the second verse. The guitar solo sounds like it’s deliberately trying to ape Prince, both in stylistic terms and in terms of how loud it is compared to everything else.

The verses of ‘Under You’ are fleshed out mostly by an energetic slapping bassline, although it sounds slightly less compressed and processed than the bass sound on some other songs. Flower’s vocal style recalls Corinne Drewery (Swing Out Sister) at times, but with a slightly higher timbre. ‘Under You’ gives her the chance to let that register soar while synths and guitars battle it out in the background. The first racecar song I heard was ‘Flood’ and, in the context of the album, it sounds better than ever. The song’s first minute contains vocal harmonies that are almost Gregorian in nature. The really clever bit, though, is how the vocal lead on the verses sounds the same throughout, but the addition of jazzy guitar chords in the last verse take the song to another, better-than-this-one, planet.

‘A New Christmas Island’ is an intimate song, both in atmosphere and sentiment. There’s a subtle trumpet over the last 40 seconds which gives the impression of being taken from the mind of the protagonist to a raft-borne journey to find some mythical place of mutual escape.

Having already mentioned some of the other basslines, I can’t stress enough how much you need to hear ‘Salt’. It is possibly the most frantic bassline I’ve ever heard. It’s impossible to tell if it was played on a bass then processed and sped up, or whether it is entirely a digital element. The result is akin to the soundtrack of a game on the Amiga, while an almost contrary vocal drives a mostly drum-less rhythm.

‘Appetite’ carries a threat. Distorted, crunchy, low frequencies stray almost into the realms of the heavy, but it’s almost as if the song exceeds any restraints put on it and its breakdown is a quiet, electronic intermission.

Up-tempo ‘Stranger Shores’ is a tour de force of musical dynamism. Almost brash and overbearing synths give way to quieter periods offset by Izzy’s relatively manic delivery.

Closer ‘To You, When It Comes’ eschews the need for anything resembling a drumbeat, combining the vocals, keys and guitars to drive the rhythmic undertone to a point where, on first listen, you won’t even notice the lack of percussion.

Debut albums are a funny beast, and a lot of artists who go out of their way to do something ambitious with them can end up tripping over the shoelace of their own ambition. OrangeCardoesn’t fall into that trap. It feels like the expansive arrangements, the desire to always embellish the traditional song structure, and the breadth of genres incorporated in racecar’s sound aren’t a conscious addition to convey maturity – they’re very much a core part of what glues these three individuals into a coherent, assured unit.

OrangeCar is out 10th June (self-released)


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