Yes, Orange, the new release by local act Hector’s Nectar, is intended to be a throwback. It’s billed as music for “retro-pop loving fans” and takes its cues from disco and ‘70s pop. But there’s more than the smooth jazz references and Xanadu-flavored fantasy-dramatic lyrics. A lot of what makes Hector’s Nectar so good has to do with the ambiance that singer-songwriter-one-man-band Ben Gibbs creates. It’s not hard to imagine that his recording studio involves a lava lamp, a disco ball, and a steady supply of pina coladas. (I say this with a note of awe and envy.)
Launching with a snarling guitar and frenzy of tambourine, “Imitation Leather Gloves” is less disco, more lounge-noir. Gibbs’ vocal, a smooth-pop baritone for most of the album, takes on a snarl as he recounts the story of a woman who can only be won with pleather hand wear.
“Every Star Diana (Is Another Someone’s Sun)” returns to the feel of previous Hector’s Nectar tracks. Here, the late ‘70s are in full swing. This song would be perfectly at home on the soundtrack to The Love Boat, gliding blithely along a shimmering tidal swell of synth and jazzy percussion.
There are a couple of misses on Orange. “What Is Wrong With Martha,” an ambitious song with cascades of horns, cymbals and minor key progressions, suffers at times from its over overzealousness. There are pitch problems, and the song itself gets lost in the chaos of the music. But an interesting time signature change and instrumental break 2/3 of the way through is, if not enough to save the track, certainly worth listening to.
“I’ll Never Date Another Scorpio” does a better job of balancing complex dynamics. Here, Gibbs stretches his range on the sweeping chorus and succeeds. Plus, there’s something so right about the retro theme as filtered through Gibbs’ sincere songwriting. Yes, the astrological mention sounds like a spoof of ‘70s soft rock. But it’s actually a damn good song.
And then there’s the final track, “Veronica,” where Gibbs shows that he can indie-rock with the best. The song, according to album notes, is “about a guy going through his contacts in his cell phone looking for a date.” Totally 21st century.
Also, worth mentioning, Gibbs has fashion sense to match his song stylings, and was featured in Asheville Streetstyle last fall.
No word yet of a Hector’s Nectar show, but let’s hope one happens soon. It’s time to rock out some platform shoes and get a dose of groovy, lounge-y retro-pop.