What were you doing in 1994? For me,I was discussing the merits of orchestra pop (or orch pop as some folks called it) with anyone who would listen. A label called Flydaddy (a subsidiary of Sub Pop) had just released a record by a band called Cardinal and I was all over it. I couldn’t stop talking about it, and I didn’t want to stop talking about it. Other bands released similar records, a little band out of Kent, Ohio called Witch Hazel (later the Witch Hazel Sound) released some excellent records, and so did groups like The High Llamas, The Divine Comedy and Plush.
I was searching high and low for anything that the press dubbed orch pop and was willing to give it a listen. Then, in 1996, a cd popped up in my PO box with an interesting cover. The band was called Yum Yum, the record was called Dan Loves Patti (on the record, carved into the back of an acoustic guitar, were several other girls names that were all crossed out, all except Patti….surrounding said guitar were many beautiful flowers. The record was released on Tag Recordings (a side label of Atlantic that vanished pretty quickly), of course I had to listen.
Who was this band and where did they come from? I had never heard of them before and as far as I knew they weren’t part of any kind of scene. Well, the band was led by a guy named Chris Holmes, a young man from Chicago who had not only written all of the songs but co-produced the record along with Chicago luminaries Dave Trumfio (who had done time in Ashtray Boy ) and Mike Hagler at Kingsize Studio (lots of indie rock records in the 90’s were produced here).
The photo inside the sleeve made Holmes look like a bit of a sad sack, while the songs themselves, superbly arranged, featured a string arrangement that seemed to cry right along with him. On the opening cut “I’m Not Telling”, a mellotron and an organ join in with the stringed instruments to dance across the record while a few songs later, the title track unfolds slowly with the lyrics “To be alone must surely be like paradise for you, to have a bed for yourself at night and watch your favorite shows…” Elsewhere, “Doot Doot” is as bouncy as its title implies, as is the even chirpier “Sister.”
On side B (or, in this case, the second half of the cd) “Cross My Heart” sounds like Holmes is even more heartbroken. The song is followed by the majestic, heartbreaking “Ring”, the centerpiece of the record, a song about a guy who thought fireworks would happen when he gave his woman a ring, only to discover that in spite of his gesture,“the world didn’t sing.” The French horns and flugelhorns really make this song. That song follows another instant classic ,Jealous of the Stars”, which seems like a rebirth for Holmes–if these songs are indeed autobiographical.
The record ends with three more sappy songs, the best being “Words Will Fail.” While I always thought the record was terrific, I can’t tell you how many copies of it I would see in budget bins in records store for a buck or two. I would buy copies and pass ‘em out to friends.(This is true, as yours truly received a copy from Mr. Hinely a few years ago.-ed.) Holmes would later try to the pass the record off as a joke, but I never heard him elaborate on that and it certainly doesn’t sound like a joke to me. And furthermore, I don’t care if the guy from Allmusic called Holmes’ lyrics and vocals “excruciatingly lame.” I don’t care, because in 1996, ork pop was alive and well and I wanted to hear as much of it as I could.
Tim Hinely is the editor of the ‘zine Dagger, as well as a contributor to Blurt.