Published Sep 17, 2019Oh Orwell is the latest leg in the always-impressive musical journey of globetrotting Canadian songwriting treasure Veronica Charnley. Bittersweetly, it also marks her (potentially) final collaboration with long-time arranger and partner, Geof Holbrook; the creative duo separated during the making of this album, but whatever the discord, we're left with a glorious parting gift of their commingled musical sensibilities.
Holbrook's bold, sophisticated orchestral arrangements are still very much felt throughout the album, but Oh Orwell is the sound of a songwriter in metamorphosis — and that includes the production, which incorporates more modern synthetic flourishes alongside their trademark use of harp and baroque instrumentation, which is more sparingly deployed amidst the album's lean nine songs, two of which are drastic (and fantastic) alt-pop re-imaginings from their prior release, Folk Songs and Future Loves.
The shift is a welcome evolution that puts increased emphasis on the sublime beauty of Charnley's songwriting without sacrificing the studious idiosyncrasies that distinguish Plumes from their contemporaries. If the poppier sheen of "Mother Sings Her" gives you any doubt, "Stray Dog de France" drops immediately after, and it's possibly the strangest song in the band's catalogue — in a very good, and as always, very musical, way. The track sequencing is self-aware and fluid, cycling through a plethora of melodic, harmonic and rhythmic gold in a way that feels cohesive.
Not a second is wasted on these compositions; Charnley has never sounded more in control of her beautiful, highly expressive voice, or her keen skills as a songwriter and the arrangements support her brilliantly. Oh Orwell is one of the year's best albums and a great example of sincere, introspective avant-pop at its finest. (Independent)