A few things immediately differentiate Yearling, the second Orcas album by co-leaders Benoît Pioulard (real name Thomas Meluch) and Rafael Anton Irisarri, from the 2012 self-titled debut. The first is that on the new release Orcas sounds more like a full-fledged group as opposed to a developing collaboration between two dramatically different artists. The second is that at times the distance between Yearling and a prototypical Benoît Pioulard recording begins to seem very small indeed. Explanations for both can be proffered: with respect to the group sound, it's noteworthy that for the new release the co-leaders brought guitarist-pianist Martyn Heyne (Efterklang) and drummer Michael Lerner (Telekinesis) on board to flesh out and help consolidate Orcas' dreampop sound. It's also telling that, in contrast to the debut album, where songs grew out of guitar improvisations and impromptu vocal sessions, much of Yearling originated from short pieces Pioulard wrote in Germany during the summer of 2012. As a result, some songs feel like Pioulard originals clothed in ultra-elaborate garb.
Fueled by Meluch's lyrical musings, the album works its way through eight instrumental and gauzy vocal-based settings over a forty-five-minute span. There's certainly nothing slipshod about the release or the quality of the material, with the musicians having worked together in Berlin (at Heyne's Lichte Studio) and Seattle (at Irisarri's Black Knoll Studio) over the course of a year to bring the album to completion. It's a treasure-trove for the ears that provides no small amount of aural stimulation in its lustrous blend of electro-acoustic sounds and field recordings. Yearling establishes its character in its opening two songs, the first “Petrichor” an instrumental of paradisiacal ambient design, and the second, “Infinite Stillness,” an almost Beatles-esque mini-anthem of dreampop splendour bolstered by dense guitar textures and a semi-martial drum pattern. Variations on the formula occur in what follows, whether it be plaintive vocal pieces such as “Half Light” and “Capillaries” or the haunting, meditative blur of the instrumentals “Selah” and “Tell.” Certain pieces stand out as especially successful marriages of sound design and melody (“An Absolute,” “Filament”), but in truth the entire album captivates in that regard.
Of course a key reason why Yearling in places resembles a Pioulard recording is that Meluch's distinctive vocal sound imprints itself indelibly upon any song within which it appears. Given that, one way by which Meluch and Irisarri could establish a stronger Orcas identity would be for the group to adopt a harder sound that exploits Irisarri's guitar presence to a greater degree. “Infinite Stillness,” “Filament,” and “An Absolute” certainly point in the right direction as far as that's concerned, but there's still room for an even heavier attack.