Circling the Drain

Exploring the beauty of sadness, Orbit Service spins tales best heard sitting down.

Happy feelings? Wasn't sadness the whole point?

Valium aside, Orbit Service as a band gradually unraveled in a spectacle presented for public scrutiny by local filmmaker Davis G. Coombe in The Tornado Dream. An engagingly voyeuristic documentary screened at the 2003 Starz Denver International Film Festival, Tornado chronicles the good times and ultimate implosion of both Orbit Service and grrrl rappers Rainbow Sugar. It also captures a few unflattering pissing matches between members of the Czars, who, in the midst of financial strains, even contemplate giving their temperamental frontman a swirlie.

"Our band squabbles felt puny compared to theirs," Frazier admits. "We get mad at each other and two people leave the band. It's painful, because you see the old Orbit Service kind of go down in flames. But Davis was tasteful in the way that he presented it; so how uncomfortable it was to me was irrelevant, because it's art. But it's really outdated as far as who we are now and what we're doing."

Sit and spin: Michael Morris (from left), Randall 
Frazier, Matthew Mensch and Jeff Morris.
John Johnston
Sit and spin: Michael Morris (from left), Randall Frazier, Matthew Mensch and Jeff Morris.

Today's Service -- retooled and streamlined with brothers Michael and Jeff Morris, guitarist and trumpeter/drummer, respectively -- tumbles through even deeper galaxies of space. Splitting duties between OS and their own eclectic Talking Heads-influenced project, the Band in Heaven, the Morrises beef up Orbit's already ethereal sound with accordions, horns and a raft of mind-bending guitar effects. The resurrected outfit's sumptuous new release, Twilight, mastered by Grammy-award-winning engineer Matt Sandoski, explores dark, brooding territory with near-telepathic interplay.

"It really came together as a band," Frazier says. "It wasn't just me writing a bunch of songs and asking people to help me play them. A lot of it actually came out of unrehearsed experiments. We didn't record it with a concept in mind, but there's a theme of tragedy and loss and time running out."

Seamless from start to finish, the eleven-song cycle sustains an ominous, slow-loping ambience suitable for doomsday -- or at least a rainy-morning shag. Armed with copious electronics and a Tibetan singing bowl, Orbit serves up a squeezebox-driven lament that recalls 16 Horsepower ("Dark Orange Sunset"), plus a scathing lesson in emotional economics ("Minutes, Dollars, Days"). Standout track "Thought You Should Know" pits memory, love and insomnia in a three-way showdown that would make the Flaming Lips proud.

"I appreciate albums that are works," Frazier says. "A lot of King Crimson stuff was like that. And Brian Eno. You don't throw this on and hear one or two songs; we want you to sit down. It doesn't really do it justice to listen to one song. It may hurt us as far as radio play, but that's their loss."

No stranger to what college kids listen to nowadays, Frazier seems more concerned with the quality of his band's music than the quantity of people buying it. ("I'd just like the CDs to pay for themselves," he admits.) Otherwise Mr. Orbit is concentrating on an upcoming tour through the Southwest, planning a May showcase at the Aztlan and promoting a mid-summer performance by British cult act the Legendary Pink Dots.

"I don't get to work directly with a lot of bands that I respect, so I'm thrilled that I get to be doing something that really matters to me," Frazier enthuses. "They're one of my favorite bands since I was a teenager, and I'm finally in a position in my job to help them."

As for helping the rest of mankind, Frazier and company can offer only the sonic equivalent of big shoulder to weep on. In a world of depleted ozone layers, rising ocean levels and nukes that can fit in a suitcase, maybe that old cynical adage is true: If you're not depressed, you're not paying attention. Fortunately, good music is like therapy and has a way of mobilizing the walking wounded -- brown note be hanged.

"The greatest thing to come out of all this," Frazier says, "would be for someone else who has similar feelings to think, 'Oh, God, at least I'm not alone.'"

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