On paper, Some Need It Lonely should be exactly what I want in an ORL record. Personnel is broadly made up of Mars Volta musicians, plus Teri Gender Bender on most lead vocals. The fact that this line-up features a broad range of Volta drummers, from Jon Theodore through Deantoni Parks, suggests the material covers a considerable time span. As such, it’s a bit of a mixed pickle sampler, and although there are some shared motifs across the piece, it often feels like a miscellaneous selection of random odds and ends.

Opening track “Bitter Sunsets” (not to be confused with the “Bitter Sunsets” featured on Nom De Guerre Cabal) introduces the distortion that muddies the vocals across the piece. ORL is giving his rounded vocals and sarcastic energy, but by the drawn-out conclusion, it’s all getting a bit too cluttered. From here on, vocally it’s mostly a Teri Gender Bender joint, apart from the one song I should love the most. You can tell I’m truly beefing when Cedric Bixler-Zavala appears on the most skippable track, “Sanity a Dream”. It’s a spoken-word piece, quite literally a shaggy dog story, recorded a long time ago, or maybe it’s just that his vocals have had a thick slab of Vaseline laid across them. After the first listen, there’s not much to bring me back to it. The music is zippy and frenetic, but it’s hard to pay much attention to either the story or the music, since the mismatched tempo makes it hard to focus.

Another should-be winner, “Zophiel”, includes a guitar sample from “Vicarious Atonement”, which I’m never mad at, but as it continues the beat set in “Bitter Sunsets”, I’m not sure why it doesn’t follow that song, especially since four other tracks are paired in this manner. In fact, the track listing order is another source of confusion, as again I feel like the penultimate song would have worked better as a concluding track. Then again, this complaint seems to have become a Special K (e.g. serial) pattern with me.

“Zero Worth” / “Barachiel Is At It Again” is actively unlistenable, partly because it reminds me of something I can’t quite pinpoint, but mainly because the seesawing repetition hasn’t got enough texture to break it up. To borrow from Alex Steed on a recent episode of You Are Good, my beef isn’t so much with the text but with the fabric. I’m also vexed throughout because I’d love to hear the lyrics, and by the time the classic ORL guitar makes an appearance, it’s all over. I feel the same way about “We Might”, a short interlude that injects some much-needed softness but hardly gets going before blasting off into “Back to the Same”, whose busy instruments are mismatched with its breathy vocals and awkward key changes.

I don’t look askance at everything here; the quiet, steady build-up of “Ariel” could be featured on a film score. As an interlude between “Barachiel Is At It Again” and “Mulu Lizi”, I’m not quite sure how it connects, but I’m charmed by its crystal plinkiness regardless. My favourite ORL instrumentals spark a narrative in my imagination; the progression from hesitant discordance to classic shred conjures the vision of a starry desert night, where predators lurk behind every corner. 

“Archangel Trophy” and its coda “Changes” represent the best of TGB’s classic drawl and cryptic lyrics. Despite bordering on the unpleasant, I quite enjoy how this dissonance sits on an almost birdlike foundation; the juddering stop-start sits well with the vocal distortion across the piece. The second half blends ethereal keyboard and folds various motifs back into the mix. It’s by far the funkiest song, and the extended hi-hat outro just adds to the fun.

In all honesty, when I first heard Some Need It Lonely, I hated it, like an actual wincing recoil, though I did – and still do – really like the cover artwork. Over time, I’ve come to appreciate some aspects, but compared to Infinity Drips, with which it shares some themes, I don’t see myself returning to it very often. I’m not averse to TGB’s confirmed or suspected extemporaneous lyrics, but when I can’t understand most of what she’s singing, my inner Alan Partridge pipes up with “I’m sorry, that’s just a noise.” 

And while ORL has a history of splitting longer songs into a few tracks, on this album it feels kind of arbitrary; unlike most other records in this series, I’m struggling to justify the practice here. The bitty nature of this miscellany of scraps has the patina of ‘whatever’, like Ed Wood cutting a record. I don’t expect a grand concept or even a broad unifying theme on every record, but even as a collection of b-sides, it doesn’t quite cut the mustard. 

Track listing:
Bitter Sunsets
We Might
Sanity a Dream
Archangel Trophy
Back to the Same
Zero Worth
Barachiel Is At It Again
Mulu Lizi