On a gusty, heaving Sunday, I left my flat at Saint Clair, clutching a copy of Mild Orange’s debut album, Foreplay.
The Dunedin based four piece released their album on Wednesday. But because us people at Hello Zukeen Inc are hot shit, we were privy to listen to the album days before it’s release. Josh Mehrtens, singer and songwriter of the group prompted me to find someone special to listen to the album with. We often joke that the music of Mild Orange makes you want to either: cry or have sex.
That’s a lot of feeling to be spurred by music. But as the title of first release (Some Feeling) from the album suggests, perhaps that’s what the band are aiming for. I’m a lonely man and alone in my car was the best I could do. Sorry Mehrt. I was hungover and feeling worse than a cat on fire. Sex was off the table, but tears, they were a possibility.
Mild Orange is made up of Josh Mehrtens, Josh Reid, Jack Ferguson and Tom Kelk. Josh and Josh have been jamming together for a few years and it was only after their first show, a backyard 21st sans a rhythm section, that the Josh's decided to find a bassist and drummer. They recruited Tom and Jack and wazaam!, Mild Orange became a fully fledged act. The group have been gigging hard and teasing us with talk of an album for quite some time. Coy fuckers. But wait no more. Foreplay is here.
The album’s opener, Intro, got underway as I left the ocean. Ambient, wistful chords, that would come to typify the Mild Orange sound, opened the album along with a greeting from Bena Simanu (who also features on Outro):
“Oh. Hello. How are you? Are you ready? It’s Mild Orange”.
I was ready. It was beautiful and my tear ducts were already moistening. As I entered the dreich South Dunedin and all of it’s despair, my hangover began to hang a little heavier. Sound tracking those moments of was Outro, Stranger and Some Feeling.
The tracks exemplify the fine work of lead guitarist Josh Reid. The term ‘lead guitarist’ is often synonymous with firey, face-melting, guitar solos. Expect no such antics on Foreplay. Reid and his guitar weaves their way through through the album, sometimes subtly, sometimes less so. It’s balanced; constant, but not superfluous.
I emerged from South Dunedin and traded the destitute streets for the hills, ascending upwards for Mornington. Views of the city ushered in two little heart-warmers - Down by the River and Selfish Lover. As if the sun had broken through the clouds and the world around was full of daisy fields in sepia tones, those two tracks ushered in the loveliest moments of the album. One word: smitten.
Losing Time brought me back to earth and into the back end of the album, bringing with it an ambient night time haze found on Mysight along with In The Living Room. A perfect fit for the descent into the KaikoraiValley and back into my stupor of too much grog and not enough sleep.
While a lot of Dunedin bands opt to record at the defunct bar and venue, now recording studio, Chicks Hotel, Mild Orange made the decision to drop a fair whack of cash on a bunch of recording gear and do it themselves. Asides from Stranger, which was recorded with Tom Bell at Chicks, the rest of Foreplay is completely DIY. Mehrtens explains:
“We were keen as to record it ourselves so that we weren’t under any time pressures that you may encounter in a studio when you’re paying for time. We bought a bunch of pro-spec gear to at least try and get good quality but a lot of that comes down to the process. There’s something quite nice about nurturing this sound-baby from the day it’s conceived to the day it goes off into the big wide world on its own. I mean, it’s probably noticeable that it wasn’t “professionally” done but I went in with a (perhaps naive) stance that we could do it and come out with a creation that’d sound great…”
As their rehearsal space became their studio, the boys locked themselves up for a week and recorded the instruments. Mehrtens then spent another six months recording the vocals and mixing in Arrowtown and Dunedin. It was all a bit of a leap of faith. Mehrtens had little previous experience recording or mixing and admits that there were times that he doubted his own experience and abilities.
“There were certainly times when I would say to the band like 'shit boys I dunno if I can do all this, it’s killing me and I don’t want to jeopardize the way listeners will experience the songs'. But the band were always so supportive and always giving input here-and-there with the mixes. I’m so thankful to them for trusting me with the job and believing in me...Now that it’s finished and released we’re able to sit back, listen and think 'fuck yeah, we’re really proud of this'..."
While many DIY recorded/ mixed albums carry a DIY roughness with it (and often to great effect, see: Kane Strang’s Blue Cheese or Nicholas Franchise’s Setup), there is no such grittiness on Foreplay. Each track is meticulously crafted, every detail scrutinized. Mehrt is evidently a bit of a sonic wizard and his leap of faith has undoubtedly paid off.
Finishing the album is the tear jerker Where Are We Now?. By this point I’d turned around and was heading seawards. Where Are We Now? is the kind of song that’s perfect for sentimental, sorrowful moments like crying in the rain in some black-and-white montage as your lover is shipped off to work on an oil rig that’s ill-fatedly destined to explode in a sea of flames.
The Syzmon-esque Terandara is worldly and little more abstracted, a treat on the ears to bring me home to the ocean and the album to a close. A great one for the late night stoners.
As a Dunedin band, Mild Orange fits the mold; four dudes, guitars, some long hair, mustaches. While a number of tropes do identify Mild Orange as part of the recent 'new Dunedin sound', the band's sound is uniquely there's. It's a little less booze fueled, a little more subdued, a little more orange. It's tender, stirring and at times, melancholic.
Foreplay is a thoroughly introspective album. It’s an honest exploration of love and loss. By the time I’d arrived home and had finished Foreplay, I had felt a lot. The album’s honest exploration of emotion, inspires it.
You can’t ask for much more from any album.
Story by Sam Fraser-Baxter
Photos by Cam Hay