by Kelli Redding
Now that we’re a couple of weeks into 2019, it always seems as though revisiting albums we enjoyed from the previous year is necessary as we await the plethora of musical discoveries that a new calendar year always brings, some with much anticipation, others with unexpected thrill. On a snowy day in northern Kentucky it seems fitting to write about an album that takes me to a warmer frame of mind. I am not a winter person in the slightest; I never have been, and most of the season I withdraw into a state of longing for the months during which I feel more outwardly content and mentally rejuvenated. That being said, I have a particular fondness for music that conjures images and feelings of summertime, and Yellow House by Orchid Mantis is no exception.
Orchid Mantis is the dazzling solo project of Atlanta musician Thomas Howard. The result is a warm concoction of slushy-sounding synthesizers, vintage-toned guitar riffs, and sharp percussion samples. Howard’s vocals fall somewhere faint yet familiar, flooding the listener with a sort of déjà vu akin to reading faded vacation postcards sent over a decade ago by childhood friends. And the songs on Yellow House recall just that – being struck by the sentiment of youth, in a way that’s jarring, wistful, and nostalgic, all at the same time.
“We stayed awake till the day dripped out of our heads…”
The first track on the album, “Lanterns,” sets the daydream-y, mellowed-out tone that will last the duration of the record, Howard’s lyrics full of imaginative visuals such as “glowing candles,” “eyes that float like lanterns,” and “dandelion dreams.” The second track, “Porch Song,” is a blurry pop hit disguised as a glittery, ambient soundscape. This track flows directly into one of the album’s many highlights, “Dragged Out Underneath the Lights,” which plays back like the foggy memory of deep conversation with a friend, complete with imagery that is both vivid and heartfelt. “Sun in Your Eyes” details an abstract narration of the childlike sense of both wonder and fear of shadows and darkness – the unknown. “Lifted” is a floating, summery high.
The album reaches a halfway point with a static instrumental followed by the beat-driven “Rifts,” which is best described as a hazy, hip-hop-tinged indie ballad. Howard’s mastering of textured, lo-fi electronic pop continues to shine bright on “Phantom Limb,” another of the album’s highlights. The tone of the album seems to mature as the songs progress; whereas the start of the record appeared to embrace some of the seemingly-endless magic of summertime, the latter half sounds as though time has flashed forward and Howard’s nights are flooded with memories of simpler days. “Guess that we’re all leaving now / standing in the empty house / moving on and moving out / haunt me now,” he sings, almost inaudibly, as we approach the end of the record. This is followed by a cloudy acoustic confession of loneliness – “No Moon (White Stars)” – before the album closes with “Dying Light,” a quivering, moonlight-drenched ballad that reflects its title as accurately as could be.
The meaning of the yellow house the album is named after is not clearly defined but is referenced several times throughout the album. To the listener, it could be any house; it could be a house in the neighborhood you grew up in, an abandoned house that school children attributed lore to, or maybe even your own house.
Regardless of your interpretation, Yellow House holds a nostalgic vibe reminiscent of summer nights during childhood: staying up late with friends, roaming the neighborhood, and collecting fireflies in jars. This is portrayed through the medium of Thomas Howard’s successful infusion of abstract ambient structures and pop songwriting. To me, Yellow House is an album that captures the carefree joy of hours happily spent idle, of liquid sunlight that pours down in patches between leaves on trees, and of trance-like haziness brought upon by dense summer humidity. But it’s also an album that contains a lingering sort of introspect, as if it holds tight onto all of the precious, fleeting moments that, just like old letters or photographs, have already begun to fade away.