The third album from New York City’s The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina, Casualties, and features fleshed out versions of demos included on the band’s second collection The Little King and the Salamander plus new songs unheard on previous releases. Guitarist and songwriting powerhouse Ryan Shivdasani proves his mettle as an artistic force with the creativity evident on this new release, but his choices for backing musicians is astute as the writing. The album is brief by modern standards, boasting only eight songs, but has such a high level of quality forgiving its brevity is no chore at all. The release of Casualties heralds the beginning of a new touring cycle for The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina and has the excellence needed for generating more interest in the band than ever before.
Casualties begins on a strong note with the track “Anarchy Reloaded”. The minimalist rhythm guitar Shivdasani lays over the top of Danny Wolf’s drums is often punctuated with fluent fills providing a lot of color to the song. Shivdasani, likewise, has made enormous strides as a lead vocalist for The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina since the band’s Act 3 album and he imbues this performance with phrasing that makes the lyrical content come alive.
The band’s penchant for shifting tempos and time signatures emerges early in the album’s second song “Have Mercy on Me”. The song has a much more laid back feel than “Anarchy Reloaded”, but there are near rave ups built into the track when The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina break off into brief jazz influenced reveries. Michael Feinberg’s bass playing is inventive and adds a lot of color to the song. The song’s conclusion finds the band breaking off into a free form jam of sorts that brings the track to a diffuse rather than definite ending – but it works.
“Definitely Not My Underwear” appeared in a different form on The Little King & the Salamander, but the guitars are amped up into the red on this incarnation of the song and draw blood from the outset. It’s definitely the strongest guitar track on the album thus far. We’re back in the slightly hallucinatory musical landscape of the album’s earliest tracks with “Imaginary Friend”, but Shivdasani’s guitar work is still the musical center of the song and ably supported by drummer Danny Wolf and bassist Michael Feinberg. Producer Russ Flynn contributes atmospheric, but never overwrought, synthesizer parts for the song as well.
Shivdasani doubles on both guitar and bass for the album’s final song, “The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina” while Danny Wolf continues his stellar run providing percussion for the collection. The track’s lyrics might strike some as performed verse, crackling with a big city Beat poetry influence that hits its mark, and the song is a big advance over the fine demo included on the band’s previous release The Little King & the Salamander. Casualties is the latest aural testament of this unique band’s powerful art and Ryan Shivdasani’s growing songwriting powers. Let’s hope that he and his band continue producing new and strong material at the same rate we’ve so far enjoyed.