Ortolan | Time on a String
Most Likely To: keep the famile tradition alive.
Daniel Smith was definitely one of the more interesting characters to surface in the 1990s. A helium-throated, God-lovin’ Eagle Scout who initially corralled his friends and siblings into dressing up as nurses and performing his raucously off-kilter indie-gospel as the Danielson Famile. Smith then branched out (literally, since he often performed dressed as a tree) into peddling handmade art objects, record production, and running his own label, SoundsFamilyre, to which he gathered all sorts of likeminded righteous loons (and I mean that with the utmost affection) such as Sufjan Stevens, Half-Handed Cloud, The Singing Mechanic, and Wovenhand.
His latest discovery is Ortolan, a pop-rock collective of New Jersey sisters (and one sister-in-law) ranging in age from their mid-teens to early twenties who got their start performing in Christian coffeehouses. On paper, it reads like Smith is trying to re-create the Danielson Famile with a different set of siblings.
However, that’s not the case at all. Even though Time on a String is produced by Smith himself, no one is going to mistake Ortolan for the Danielsons. They bear a much closer resemblance to Eisley, the Texas combo of God-fearing teen siblings who somehow eluded Smith’s grasp and signed to another label. Stephanie Cottingham, the vocalist and songwriter for Ortolan, is nowhere near as God-obsessed in her lyrics as Smith, focusing mostly on standard teenage concerns like friends, attraction, insecurity and growing up.
The music on Time on a String is fairly straightforward indie-pop, with the occasional oddball instrumental texture and Cottingham’s distinctive voice – the best description would be Joizey waif – adding enough individuality to keep things interesting. Cottingham has a deft ability with pop hooks, and while she hasn’t written any classic songs as of yet, she doesn’t seem to have written any bad ones yet either – or at least if she has, she’s bright enough to have left them unrecorded.
Ortolan aren’t rewriting the rules of any genres the way their mentor Daniel Smith or his sometime famile member Sufjan Stevens, but that’s no big deal. If Smith and Stevens are the Beatles and Stones of their particular branch of off-kilter indie-gospel, Ortolan are content to be its Dave Clark Five. They aren’t breaking any new ground or blazing any trails, but on their debut album they’ve created some fairly enjoyable pop music.
Listen to “Sticky Situation”: