4 out of 5 stars
Guard house | Guard house | (Tiptoe Tiger Music / Thirty Tigers)
It’s a somewhat inexplicable decision when a band opts for a name change more than a decade after the start of their collective career. At best, it’s confusing. At worst, it can throw fans and followers off balance, confusing any notion of continuity and leaving some wondering what happened to the group they were loyal to in the first place.
Mandolin Orange’s decision to drop their original grip and change their name to the ubiquitous sounding “Watchhouse” seems particularly odd in light of what they’ve accumulated so far. Indeed, the explanation of the co-founder and leader Andrew Marlin sheds little light on their reasoning. “Mandolin Orange was born out of my 21-year-old mind,” he says on their website. “The name is not what I look for when I write,” insisting that “Watchhouse” is a name that better defines their true intentions.
Hmmm. It sounds a bit vague, but if he’s referring to the reassuring sound, he and his partner
Emily Frantz is creating with their eponymous new effort, so maybe the connection becomes clearer. The soothing caress that accompanies each of the album’s entries hovers gently over the debates while releasing a sort of protective presence through a series of melancholy refrains. There is a shameless eloquence in songs such as “Lonely Love Affair”, “Wondrous Love” and “Belly of the Beast”, which exude a shared optimism that is present throughout. Likewise, the only instrumental of the album, “Coming Down Green Mountain”, with its delicately plucked mandolin and its singing violin, reaffirms the delicacy of their performance. With “Nightbird”, the beautiful ballad that ends the set, the meditative mood and the shared sense of celebration find a perfect match.
Given these lush tones, it’s obvious that the duo’s new identity won’t slow their progress. Indeed, Marlin himself took over by releasing two solo albums earlier this year—Fable & Fire and House of Witchcraft—each is a great addition to the appropriate versions of the pair. So watch out for Watchhouse. They ensure that comfort and confidence can be shared in a synchronized manner.