Flowers of Hell Odes

Flowers of HellOdes
Talk about an about-face. Trans-Atlantic orchestra the Flowers of Hell's last album was a sprawling single-track opus called O. It's tough to follow up something that ambitious and after two years, the group, led by founder Greg Jarvis, appear to have opted to just not bother. Odes is instead a collection of covers originally intended as an EP of Lou Reed-related work. As the album's liners notes explain, this is a conscious move into the world of verse-chorus-verse songwriting, something the group (whose elastic membership can balloon to 17 members) had avoided on previous recordings. Opening with a brass and string arrangement of Neutral Milk Hotel's "On Avery Island — April 1st," the group set the tone before moving into the slow build of Joy Division's "Atmosphere," turning what's often used as a requiem for late singer Ian Curtis into a sublime celebration. For the most part, the group continue in this vein, retaining the song's core while recontextualizing it for ulterior means (see the Nico-esque version of "Mr. Tambourine Man" or vocoder-heavy mash-up "O Superheroin"). But there's a frustrating sense, particularly if you've listened to past Flowers of Hell records, that the band are holding back, as if they could rip these tracks apart at the seems if someone would just let them. Fans will either embrace these songs for the beauty they hold or curse the group for dodging expectations and ignoring what they do best. Either way, Odes is a bold statement worth checking out. (Optical Sounds)