4 out of 5 Stars
Watchhouse | Watchhouse | (Tiptoe Tiger Music / Thirty Tigers)
It’s a somewhat inexplicable move when a band opts for a name change more than a decade into their collective career. At best, it’s confusing. At worst, it can throw fans and followers askew, confounding any notion of continuity and leaving some to wonder what became of the band they were faithful to in the first place.
Mandolin Orange’s decision to drop their original handle and change their name to the ubiquitous-sounding “Watchhouse” seems especially strange in light of the following they had accrued thus far. Indeed, co-founder and frontman Andrew Marlin’s explanation sheds little light on their reasoning. “Mandolin Orange was born out of my 21-year-old mind,” he states on their website. “The name isn’t what I strive for when I write,” insisting that “Watchhouse” is a name that better defines their true intentions.
Hmmm. That seems a bit vague, but if he’s referring to the reassuring sound he and his partner
Emily Frantz creates with their new eponymous effort, then perhaps the connection becomes clearer. The calming caress that accompanies each of the entries on the album gently hovers over the proceedings while exuding a protective kind of presence through a series of wistful refrains. There’s unabashed eloquence found in songs such as “Lonely Love Affair,” “Wondrous Love” and “Belly of the Beast,” which radiate a shared optimism that’s present throughout. So too, the album’s sole instrumental, “Coming Down Green Mountain,” with its gently plucked mandolin and lilting violin, reaffirms the delicacy of their delivery. With “Nightbird,” the beautiful ballad that ends the set, the meditative mood and shared sense of celebration find a perfect pairing.
Given these lush tones, it’s apparent that the duo’s new identity won’t slow their progress. Indeed, Marlin himself took up the slack by releasing two solo albums earlier this year—Fable & Fire and Witching House—each an excellent adjunct to the pair’s proper releases. So watch out for Watchhouse. They ensure that comfort and credence can be shared in sync.