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The Haul 2010: Tre Orsi's Devices + Emblems

Tre Orsi – Devices + Emblems LP – Comedy Minus One, 2010

Tre Orsi's Devices + Emblems

It’s both easy and dangerous to go overboard on the relevance of a group’s influences or reference points (whether acknowledged or perceived), but Tre Orsi’s relationship with Silkworm and Bedhead explains what makes them a compelling band on their own accord. The bullet points of this relationship are clear. Tre Orsi’s first released song was a bravado cover of Silkworm’s “Insomnia” for the 2006 tribute album An Idiot To Not Appreciate Your Time: The Songs of Silkworm, which re-imagined Andy Cohen’s buzzing guitar work as restrained piano. Tre Orsi’s Matthew Barnhart helped record The New Year’s last two albums, a favor which Bubba Kadane returned by producing Devices + Emblems. Barnhart’s done live sound and tour management for both groups. Few recent bands can claim such a symbiotic relationship with their touchstones. It puts Tre Orsi in the unique position of being the descendents of Silkworm and Bedhead and the peers of Bottomless Pit and The New Year.

But does Tre Orsi sound like Silkworm and Bedhead? In a general indie rock sense, sure. Like Silkworm and countless other bands, they have a guitar/bass/drums line-up with an emphasis on replicating their live sound. Vocally, Barnhart can occasionally be mistaken for the lost third Kadane brother, but his band is two guitarists short of Bedhead’s clean, three guitar arrangements. What Tre Orsi picks up from those groups is an emphasis on honest, carefully crafted songwriting that forgoes fashionable, fleeting trends in favor of lasting impact. Granted, the sexiness of now is more immediately satisfying, which led me to sit on particular Silkworm recordings and most of Bedhead’s catalog until the light went on in my head and made wonder how I’d ever not counted Firewater as one of my personal favorites or spent more time with Transaction de Novo. Needless to say, this object lesson in patient listening comes a lot easier for me at 30 than it did at 17.

My immediate reaction to Tre Orsi’s Devices + Emblems was informed by these experiences. The first time I heard it, I wasn’t blown away, but I knew there was something I enjoyed that would continue to grow, so I kept coming back. Every time I’ve listened to it since (especially my first spin of the LP), Devices + Emblems has gotten better. It’s now in regular driving rotation, which is the mark of a strong, long-lasting rock album. Getting to that point shouldn’t happen immediately for an album loaded with enjoyable left-turns. You need to figure out where those turns take you first. Clear starting point “The Engineer” (which previously appeared on Gerard Cosloy’s labor-of-love compilation of Austin-area bands, Casual Victim Pile: Austin 2010) winds its way through a windmill guitar and air-drum friendly intro, a nicely cresting verse, a cathartic pre-chorus (“I hate all these thoughts / I composed in foreign language”), a charging, energetic chorus (“I give to you / Philosophy / Before I die / Right here, stateside”), a ragged solo, and finally a reflective outro that revisits the previous lyrics. I had to understand this topography before I could sing along and air drum as I speed down 93 to the city, but that’s an enjoyable process on its own accord. Other highlights include the stomping drums and buzzing arpeggios of “Toward St. Ambrose,” the head-bobbing chorus of “Tiny Executives,” and the distorted squeals of “Best Kind of Failure,” but there isn’t a disappointing track in the lot.

True to the no-bullshit ethos that runs through every note of Tre Orsi’s music, Devices + Emblems is a tidy nine songs, twenty-seven minutes. Every time the final notes of “Declaring Space” close out the record, I hope a few more songs magically appear, but I’m limited to the equally excellent “The Illustrator” b/w “Faulkner’s Blues” single and that “Insomnia” cover. Now my edict for patience becomes doubly important, since music as carefully crafted as Tre Orsi’s doesn’t write itself overnight, so their now anxiously awaited second album may be a few years away. It’s here where I’d like them to be more Silkworm/Bottomless Pit and less Bedhead/The New Year.