Reviewed by Christopher Gray, Fri., Aug. 15, 2003
Orange MothersPlane Crash City (Jim Thunder Productions) Since so many songs from Plane Crash City have become integral to the Orange Mothers' live set, it's interesting to flash back to Austin, 1997, when Plane Crash City came out on cassette only. Sure enough, the Mothers' winsome blend of childlike whimsy and sad-hearted melancholia is in full bloom in songs of almost preternatural purity. Every aspect feels wholly natural, from Ethan Azarian's fragile melodies to James Welch's fantastical keyboard embellishments, whether the band is jubilantly heading for orbit on "Rocket Boy" or gazing despondently at the ground on "Burn the City." On an album that embraces the chiming optimism of "Freight Train" and besotted drum-machine goof "Audy's Drunken Christmas," such a high degree of clarity is remarkable indeed. Some of Azarian's most memorable creations materialize for the first time, including down-on-his-luck UFO abductee "Rudy" (where bassist Jeff Johnston introduces his now-familiar singing-through-a-telephone gambit), and the irrepressibly boy-crazy "Marshmello Girls." Six years on, what resonates most of all are moments of pure sadness that slide in among the birthday parties and candy clovers -- subtle acknowledgements that life is never quite as simple as it sounds when you're singing about aliens and dancing with the queen of spades. Turns out the Orange Mothers had the Flaming Lips' Soft Bulletin beat by at least three years.