Whereas other musicians may try to distance themselves from unwanted pigeonholing, UK-based producer Minotaur Shock (a.k.a. David Edwards) has come up with a different response to having his sound categorized by critics; instead of avoiding the "folktronica" sound, he's delved straight into it. For much of his decade-long career, the artist has ardently defied and denounced the labelling of his work, but his fourth album, Orchard, which comes four years after the release of his last record under the Minotaur Shock name, Amateur Dramatics, heralds a change in that attitude.
Orchard's opener, "Janet," is a bold yet beautiful statement of intent. The nine-minute monolith carries many of the standard folktronica trimmings, such as the guitar plucks and strums that ubiquitously appear throughout the record's remaining eight tracks, and Edwards even garnishes its steady, driving drum beat and arpeggiating melodies with the sounds of warbling horns, xylophones, and airy violins. But when the beat drops out of the mix during the track's final third, the resulting duet of guitar and hopeful violin strings—as beautiful as it is—may be a little much for some.
That's not to say that Orchard goes heavy on the folk aspect of the equation; "Ocean Swell" brings things back into perspective, firmly reorienting the listener back toward the realm of the electronic. An energetic, jazzy breakbeat anchors the track as it winds through various sonic textures, including woodwinds, fuzzed-out low end, light piano keys, and weird vocal samples. "Through The Pupils of Goats" finds a middle ground between electronic and folk-driven sounds, beginning with a catchy 4/4 beat and pretty-sounding strummed guitars that gradually morph into a funky, almost Balearic affair that doesn't skimp on the bass. The pastoral Irish sounds of "Too Big to Quit" diverts back to folk, but only for a short moment before the album's solid middle, which includes the beautifully simple guitar line of "Westonbirt," the fast-paced and energetic drum breaks of "Lending Library," and the tumbling rhythms and Arabesque guitars featured on "Quint."
The next track, Orchard's lead single "Saundersfoot," (which was previously remixed by fellow Briton Gold Panda) provides an interesting and distinct thematic change from the rest of the album. It's also a bold choice for a single. While the song is certainly accessible and catchy—it shimmers with delicately struck xylophone melodies and assorted twinkling synth lines over a laid-back 4/4 beat—it's a bit misleading to assume that it's a primer for what the rest of the album will sound like. After all, there isn't a discernible guitar pluck, strum, or chord in the entire mix. Closer "Adventure Orchard" rounds out the album quite fittingly by blending together a number of the influences found throughout the other eight tracks—such as xylophones, Detroit synths, funky synth bass, and Middle Eastern-influenced guitar strums. However, it also encapsulates the album as a whole, as Orchard offers an immensely varied palette of sounds and influences to choose from. Perhaps it is time to look beyond just the folk aspect of Edwards' music after all.