It’s been almost 7 years since Brighton band Orchards planted the seeds for what would eventually grow into their debut album. It took them a little bit to establish themselves, too, but there’s a clear throughline from 2013’s self-titled debut EP to the watertight, whip-smart quartet we hear on Lovecore. That was followed by 2015’s Constantly Moving EP before original vocalist Catherine Thomson made way for Lucy Evers. She’s led the band since, backed up by Sam Rushton (guitar), Dan Fane (bass/vocals) and Will Lee-Lewis (drums).
The gradual build-up to their opening statement began from there in earnest, taking in a third EP and last year’s Young/Mature Me single along the way - which is to say, it’s been a while in coming, but it’s more than worth the wait, taking the infectious math-pop that the band have made their staple sound and scaling up its ambition in tandem with its production value - as an example, ‘Luv You 2’ appeared on 2018’s Losers/Lovers EP, but when set against its reworked album version, the difference is night and day. Simply put, it sounds huge, brought in line with the rest of this bright and bold collection of songs - one behind which a troubling darkness lurks. A look at its confessional lyrical approach should be enough to highlight that contrast, as this is where the album truly shines.
Opener ‘Sincerely Overwhelmed’ focuses on Evers’s struggles with her diagnoses of depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder. “It’s hard to describe the mechanics of my mind” she confesses, holding her hands up to admit her faults on the first of the album’s many earworm choruses, then caught between wanting to pour her heart out to anyone who’ll listen and simply not wanting to bother: “Can you call me when you get this? Or don’t, and we’ll leave it.” Mental health and its impact on the self and others is one of the album’s core themes, with spoken-word piece ‘Social Sobriety’ expanding on the opener’s desire to paper over the cracks; viewed through the lens of social media, all may not be as it seems: “A façade, a barricade, stronger than a kind word to a stranger / Where’s the predetermined path that leads to a happy ending?”
On a similar theme, ‘Stealing Your Sleep’ is a gut-punch dressed up in dazzling melodies, as Evers laments feeling like a burden to those around her due to her mental health struggles (“I’m ashamed of the things I didn’t act on / There’s blood on my sleeve / I’ve been stealing your sleep / I’ve never had a time like this”). The album's personal lyric sheet is masked by the music's immediate nature, but there are plenty of times when those two elements complement each other, such as on the cathartic uplift of ‘Magical Thinking’, on which Evers documents seeking help for her aforementioned diagnoses and starting out on the right path to a better version of herself, sure to be a balm to listeners in similar situations. ‘Girlfriend’, meanwhile, is an empowerment anthem-in-waiting where Evers confronts the idea of a one-sided romantic relationship before soundly rejecting it in favour of working on herself, her self-confident swagger reflected in the music.
‘Vacancy’ presents the flip side to this, the band playing up a storm and offering up what could arguably be one of the year’s best pop songs - it’s a love song, but it skirts the clichés associated with such things in favour of Evers trying to get out ahead of herself and wondering whether she’s ‘a permanent fixture or vacancy’ in this would-be relationship, oscillating wildly between defeatism in the song’s hook (“I guess falling in love with me wasn’t an option”) and starry-eyed romanticism on its bridge (“You were worth a lifetime to wait for”) as she scrabbles to make it work. On the fence between pragmatism and idealism, it’s a deeply relatable song that’s set to become a firm favourite at the band’s raucous live shows.
The band save the album’s most surprising moment for last, as ‘History’ opens with a menacing riff that’s far removed from the lighter fare offered elsewhere, the heaviness of the music matched by the romantic turbulence detailed in its lyrics as Lovecore goes out with a bang, as dramatic as you like, though not before offering one more sugary-sweet earworm for good measure, Evers taking the first line of the chorus, “I want to know where you’ve been all night,” and repurposing it for the song’s powerful coda as it gradually fades into the ether. Best of luck not getting that stuck in your head if another part of the album isn't there already. With an emotional and gripping lyrical arc, countered by some of the some of the best hooks you’re likely to hear in 2020, Orchards have put together an unshakeably strong debut that’s full of juice, and will apple-y welcome you into their world if you let them.