Presumably a collection of songs ending up on the band’s debut Act 3 and material potentially destined for release on future collections, The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina fourteen songs included in the Little King and the Salamander collection should go a long way towards solidifying Ryan Shivdasani’s position as one of the indie scene’s best songwriters and musicians. This collection of demos features some songs released in a different form on the Act 3 release and are instructive to hear in this context, but there is ample material here receiving its first public exposure. The sheer breadth of influences fueling Shivdasani’s music is impressive; much like on Act 3, we are treated to a host of styles Shivdasani and his cohorts seamlessly dispatch. Evocative production is the capper for this and, even after multiple listens, it’s hard to imagine these are demos – in many respects, they are just as polished as anything you hear on the band’s album Act 3.
The opener “Hey Everybody” doesn’t have vocals, per se – there are no lyrics. Shivdasani, however, lights the track up with exuberant scat singing and his inspired lead guitar lines definitely enliven this brief track. “What Fools We Can Be” shifts stylistic gears and moves into acoustic laced, mid-tempo balladry in a singer/songwriter vein. There’s effective echo added to Shivdasani’s vocals at key points throughout the song, but it isn’t overwrought. The song “The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina” mingles jazz influences with a slightly skewed, disjointed artfulness and has some subtle percussion forming the song’s foundation.
“Particle Craze”, one of Act 3’s marquee tracks, appears in a slightly different form here. Post production and other effects have less presence on this version than we hear from its album counterpart, but the song loses none of its allure in relatively minimalist form. The folk singer strands of “She’ll Do Anything” illustrates another side of Shivdasani’s musical character heard on Act 3 as well, but there’s still a lean slant to even these songs as you can clearly hear Shivdasani is a songwriter resistant to the idea of wasted words or notes. Everything breathes and benefits from tight focus. “Jeepers Creepers” goes in a decidedly artsy direction, especially regarding the vocals and sound fx flashing like quicksilver over the song’s drum pattern, but snippets of acoustic guitar come flashing out of the mix as well. It’s very short but entertaining.
“Definitely Not My Underwear” promises wacky hilarity and definitely delivers, but the humor is crouched inside a postmodern garage rock arrangement. It isn’t a throwaway, far from it as it continues showing off the depths of Shivdasani’s songwriting talent. “Thinking About You” revisits the acoustic side of the project’s songwriting with a deliberate mid-tempo jangle and a fine vocal melody for the piece. The last song on Little King and the Salamander, “I Have Always Been Here”, is close to the acoustic playing we hear on earlier songs like “Thinking About You”, “She’ll Do Anything”, and “Slip Away”, but the chief distinguishing characteristic setting this song apart is how Shivdasani spikes that formula with a slightly psychedelic veneer. Demos or not, The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina’s Little King and the Salamander is one of the most interesting collections of music you’ll hear this year.
-review by Jodi Marxbury