The creative force behind The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina, Ryan Shivdasani, is daring if nothing else. The unique fusion of seemingly disparate styles behind the band’s collection Act 3 is quite unlike anything else in the indie or mainstream scene today without ever attempting to remake the wheel. Instead, Shivdasani appeals to highbrow and longtime listeners through reordering familiar sounds in an idiosyncratic and signature style. The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina’s album Act 3 features thirteen songs with a manageable length and sequenced with a clear ear turned towards cohesiveness. I admire this album intensely. Without much in the way of self indulgence, Ryan Shivdasani’s The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina sets its sights high and more than matches its ambition with enormous fluency and musical appeal. Russ Flynn’s production talents help realize the vision for this album and the studio musicians working alongside Shivdasani, including drummer Danny Wolf and bass players Jack Redford and Michael Feinburg, provide sympathetic accompaniment.
One thing that leaps out to me about this band after my initial listen to Act 3 is few modern acts understand better how to mix things up for listeners and surprise them with turns capturing their attention, but always sounding like their part of the greater whole. Act 3 begins with a trio of songs that, in less than fifteen minutes, gets the album off to a diverse start. The howling modern punk of “Together” is much different from the two tracks coming after it, “Particle Craze” and “Watched You Out My Window”. The second of those aforementioned tracks, “Particle Craze”, comes off as an intelligent and individualistic meditation on some classic guitar driven art rock tropes, but the song emphasizes the band’s individuality moreso than outright imitating anything you’ve heard before. “Watched You Out My Window” is a particular favorite thanks to the solid narrative behind the lyrics and how Shivdasani’s control over everything makes it unravel at just the right pace for me. The lyric, initially, begins in a very different place than where it ends. A delightful side effect of this is you can listen to it again and hear how Shivdasani’s central guitar melody acts as almost a bit of foreshadowing about the song’s final result.
There’s some appealing hard-edged writing full of telling observations. One of the high peaks for this sort of songwriting comes with the tune “East of Eden”. It cops that relatively common phrase from our lexicon, and literature, to explore its own narrative about a character’s need for redemption. It’s one of the abiding themes, among others, powering the songs on Act 3. “Enemy” is cut to a hard diamond edge while standing, as well, head and shoulders over some already fine songs it shares space with on Act 3. He deserves plenty of praise for, once again, exploring a familiar topic for songwriting with language that has idiosyncratic twists of its own thus laying on a new coat of paint, figuratively, for the subject.
There’s some fantastic wordplay driving the lyrics for “Anarchy” and a bluesy feeling pervading the song thanks to Jack Redford and Danny Wolf’s powerful rhythm section swing. There’s some strong guitar pyrotechnics making their way into the song’s last quarter that are never excessive, but give the song an added layer of dissonance appropriate for its subject matter. “Fade Into the Night” has a compelling mix of acoustic folksiness alongside some psychedelic tinged pop excursions along the way and the album’s finale, “Wait Behind”, has a relaxed pop jangle dominating much of the song, but there’s some twists coming into play reminding us that this is a band who draws inspiration from the idea of keeping listeners on their toes. The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina’s Act 3 is as complete as albums come, really, and has something for everyone. Any serious modern music fan needs to hear this and have it in their collection or playlist.