Made up of songs that rarely last much beyond the two minute mark and weighing in at just under half an hour, the first thing that hits you about Restraint is its slightness. As well as short, the Seattle-based group’s songs are minimal, mannered things that share a common ancestor with other surf-pop revivalists like Tennis and Best Coast, but are perhaps a streamlined variant, evolved to survive the Pacific Northwest winter. The guitars are trim. The vocals are cold. The bass, while melodious and billowy, is neatly rationed. There are no warm, martial harmonies. There are no warm, sun-bleached fuzz effects. The ocean that Orca Team’s music looks out on isn’t one to surf on or sunbathe in front of, but one to moodily glare out at, or walk into with your pockets full of rocks.
That wintry mood expands to the band’s lyrics. On ‘Too Busy to Love Me’ vocalist Leif Anders sighs, “You’re too careless to keep my heart” when faced with a girl that’s pretty clearly cheating on him. That precocious, over-articulate tendency gets expanded on in ‘Ocean Ghost’ when he intones, “I wear black in remembrance of you/And think of all the swell things you used to do” amidst lean guitar notes and a shuffling drum pattern. A girl’s broken up with him, but for all intents and purposes she could be dead. A combination of the two, a teenage melodrama, is achieved on ‘Been Crying All Day’ when our narrator informs us that he’s “been crying all day/Wish this weren’t true”. A knowing wink is sounded in the song’s marching drums and “woooo—ooohhh” spectral harmony.
Restraint is a competent debut, if a little one-note. It is also notable just how very fond Orca Team are of the ’50s. It’s there in the deliberately anachronistic “swell” on ‘Ocean Ghost’, the prom band get-up they wear live, and the teenage ingénue narrator in their lyrics. This sits well alongside the veritable ocean of culture being made right now that attempts to capture the mood and feelings of an America of white picket fences, apple pie, drive-in movies, and high-school proms; life before The Beatles, before Vietnam, before Nixon, although apart from a noirish tone that might be expanded on in future releases, Restraint feels a little late to the party with little novelty to help them stand out. The Eisenhower Pop they’re aspiring to is a varied place – ranging from the earnest, instagrammed nostalgia of Tennis to the knowing, Lynchian artifice of Lana Del Ray. Orca Team sit somewhere in the middle and, as okay a debut as Restraint is, it’s a crowded place to be.
Listen to Restraint