This is something different that, somehow, strikes a familiar chord. Much of the style we hear on The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina full length album Act 3 has signatures qualities lacking in many new releases, particularly a near theatrical sound imbuing the tunes with additional dramatic weight, but songwriter Ryan Shivdasani’s skill for structuring songs along recognizable lines shines through. The thirteen songs on this release aren’t uniformly successful, there are some bumps in the road along the way, but these minor impediments prove to be no obstacle towards thoroughly enjoying this release. He’s joined by some capable supporting musicians clearly on the same page and the trio format he adopts for the recording of this album means arrangements are never carried off in a way the musicians would be hard pressed to reproduce live. Despite the somewhat challenging nature of some of the album’s material, this is music meant to be played by a live band.
Particle Craze is one of Act 3’s best songs and deserves its near pole position in the album’s track listing. Shivdasani’s guitar playing explores a number of different textures throughout the course of these thirteen songs, but he’s most successfully working in a sort of art alternative rock mold like he is here. There are hints of a pop rock jangle from his guitar playing, but he’s particularly skilled at sketching out strong melodic figures that have a bit of skew setting them apart. Watched You Out My Window is another songwriting high point on Act 3 and the lyric stands out for a number of reasons but the two chief reasons are its near-narrative quality and the lockstep way it fits into the musical arrangement. There’s a lot of emotion percolating to the surface of this tune and Shivdasani’s vocal handles it artfully, but effectively.
Cowboys and Indians is another of the more muscular, visceral art rockers with an alternative edge included on this album. The music has a strong bounce, thanks to its rhythm section playing, and Shivdasani gives the song an added twist by delivering its aggressive lyrical content with a bit, but not too much, of a wink and a nudge. There’s no such wink or nudge, however, with the album’s sixth track Enemy. This is one of the more foreboding numbers on the album with a streamlined, stripped down musical thrust that threatens to explode at any moment but never does. The tension running through this track makes it one of the album’s more memorable listening experiences.
Shivdasani’s imagination shines brightly again with the ingenious wordplay and musical fun of the song Anarchy. His rhyming uses nursery song effects as a stylistic device without ever becoming too pretentious about it and his delight in manipulating language is evident with each line of his vocal. The improbable duo of Blood Country and Wait Behind ends Act 3 with a powerful contrast – the art rock leanings of Blood Country with its apocalyptic lyrical conceits couldn’t hardly be any more different than the acoustic folky inclinations of the closing number Wait Behind. This is a stunning, head-spinning release with something for everyone, but will likely be appreciated most of all by serious, devoted music fans looking for a different spin on time-tested formulas and approaches.