Those familiar with New York City’s The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina have heard some of these songs before. Some selections included on their latest album Casualties first emerged on their previous collection Little King & the Salamander, a release featuring demos and previously unreleased material. Ryan Shivdasani’s musical brainchild has fleshed out some of those tunes for inclusion on the new album and coupled them with fresh new material in keeping with the standards of daring and imagination defining the band since they first debuted. It is a relatively brief release by modern expectations, but anyone who knows The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina will concede the band and their songs aren’t much for conforming to modern expectations. Thank god.
The band’s rock chops only flare to life on select cuts. The first song “Anarchy Reloaded” is one – it is difficult, if not impossible, to not be carried along by the inexorable rush of Shivdasani’s sturdy and muscular rhythm guitar and he tosses in just enough lead guitar runs to punctuate the performance. Shivdasani’s vocal is relaxed, cool and confident, yet he keeps pace with the surging arrangement throughout the entirety of the song. The rock oriented numbers on Casualties are impressive, but The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina primarily concern themselves with the more thoughtful and individual singer/songwriter styled numbers like the album’s second track “Have Mercy on Me”.
The song exhibits the emotive excellence Shivdasani can bring to songs. His singing isn’t necessarily conventional, there is a nasal quality capable of turning some listeners away, but even naysayers cannot deny Shivdasani invests the lyrics of “Have Mercy on Me” and songs like it with palpable vulnerability. The highlight number of this ilk, for me, is “Imaginary Friend”. The album’s fifth track is the only one on the release making use of synthesizers, but their presence brings more color to the composition rather than assuming the stature of a lead instrument. The lyric, as well, is one of the album’s finest and Shivdasani’s vocal has depth surpassing many of the songs before and after it on Casualties.
The best rock number, for me, is the third track “Burn”. This song encompasses the best of both worlds musically – the subdued first half of the song is acoustic and low key before Shivdasani and the band jettison that approach and opt for a hair raising rock finale pulling out all of the stops. The album’s final song bears mentioning as well. “The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina” has outstanding lyrical sophistication while still remaining accessible and comprehensible and handle the jazzy influences rife throughout the arrangement with expert skill.
The third release from The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina reaffirms the creativity we’ve heard on the preceding releases while also revealing the deepening nuance in the band’s material. Shivdasani seems to grow more confident with each new release and reflects this assertiveness in songs certain of their destination and lacking any hesitation. For newcomers, Casualties serves as an excellent introduction to one of the best indie rock acts recording today and for those already following the band, the new album is more evidence for why they should keep listening.