Poignant acoustic guitar play accompanies us as we venture into the hallowed ground of harmonies that The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina’s “Thinking About You” is comprised of, and in their gilded grooving we find a warm melodicism that comes standard with every song contained on the band’s new album Casualties. Tracks like “Thing About You” and the jazzy “The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina” don’t follow the same recipe of rhythm and rhyme, but they’re forever bound together by the haunting tonality of their strings (something that I’ve come to expect out of every guitar-driven composition that this group attaches their zany name to). Casualties isn’t the sonic exhibition that Act 3 was, but fans who were hoping to hear a more polished version of MMO’s signature sound won’t be disappointed in what its tracks have to offer us. With multifaceted numbers like “Imaginary Friend” and “Space Robot” anchoring the second half of this involved listening experience, there’s never a dull moment to behold as we move from song to song at the whim of the band’s eccentric will, and while many records of this variety have fallen short mid-tracklist, this is one LP that stings just as hard as the credits start to roll as it does in its opening bars.
“Anarchy (Reloaded)” gets things going in Casualties with a garage rocking rhythm that The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina will revisit later on in “Definitely Not My Underwear,” a song that received a much-needed varnishing since we last heard it on Little King and the Salamander (Demos). It follows the melancholic “Burn,” and though it’s not nearly as enigmatic in its lyricism (quite the opposite), it doesn’t minimize the surreal feel of its predecessor at all. “Burn” is the most complex piece of music on this album and more than justifies the accolades that its creators have received in the last year all by itself; though MMO have shied away from layered compositions in previous outings, they nail the entire concept in this song better than I had thought they would. They’re still exploring their sonic depth, but Casualties is definitely the most mature batch of recordings they’ve released since their initial formation.
While it borrows its framework from The Who, “Have Mercy on Me” is another one of this record’s most sterling highlights, and possibly the most emotional moment that its tracklist has to share. The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina have been on one heck of a professional odyssey over the last few years, but as long as they continue to develop the sound that they’re rocking on Casualties, it’s hard for me to imagine their status as reliable underground songwriters not growing all the more credible. They make a legitimate statement in this album, and though they’re playing a style of music that is at odds with the mainstream sound going into 2020, I wouldn’t describe them as a throwback band at all. The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina are fundamentalists with a penchant for the provocative, and in an age that celebrates artistic contradictions, their material ought to be considered some of the most fascinating in its class.