Album Review: Mild Orange - 'Looking For Space'

11 February 2022 | 1:41 pm | Cyclone Wehner

"'Looking For Space' is a soundtrack for escape."

Many credible New Zealand acts have slipped under the radar in Australia – including the alt-R&B trio LA Women, who stalled after their viral ballad Hurricane Love. Possibly dream-pop band Mild Orange are similarly underrated. But, like Fat Freddy's Drop, they command a significant global fanbase, accruing 100 million YouTube views. Channel orange, indeed.

Mild Orange are prolific. Looking For Space is their third album in four years – led by the languid single This Kinda Day, with an outro that will surely prompt audience sing-a-longs. Auspiciously, the LP release has coincided with the band's headlining date at London's Jazz Cafe and strategic relocation to the UK.

Fronted by the versatile muso Josh Mehrtens – who typically also handles production, engineering and mixing duties – Mild Orange might be compared to Australia's own Mildlife with their psychedelic twists, but they feel more accessible. 

The quartet – Mehrtens, main guitarist Josh Reid, bassist Tom Kelk and drummer Jack Ferguson – bonded as uni students in Dunedin. In 2018 they debuted with Foreplay, spawning the popular lovelorn ballad Some Feeling. They followed with an eponymous set in 2020 as COVID-19 raged.

The Kiwis cut Looking For Space amid the pandemic. But, even beyond the anxiety of lockdown, it was a trying time for Mehrtens, who suffered from pneumonia and pleurisy in late 2020 – his recovery protracted and impacted Mild Orange's promotion. (In a presser, he says, "That put me into some pretty dark spaces.") Symbolically, Looking For Space thematises revival via reflective growth.

Mild Orange have progressively refined their musicianship and expanded their range – Mehrtens, not an obvious vocalist, specifically stretching himself on the mic, often playfully. A jam, Oh Yeah has an ad-libbed chorus and closes with a spoken word segment that for anyone else could be indulgent. For the first time, Mild Orange hired a professional studio in Auckland. Yet the charm of their lo-fi aesthetic endures.

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Sonically, Looking For Space cruises through vintage indie – the tuneful, affirmative opener Colourise evoking '80s Celtic heroes the Cocteau Twins and The Blue Nile, as well as Doves, with jangly guitar and atmospheric reverb – and shoegaze, exemplified by This Kinda Day and the Beach House-y epic What's Your Fire?. Aurora is almost a club record with an uptempo groove plus Reid's funky Nile Rodgers-style licks – and should be remixed ASAP by Lindstrøm or Ex-Olympian.

In fact, Looking For Space is mostly distinct for its sanguine – nay, euphoric – mood. Mehrtens' lyrics exude an endearing nostalgia for the escapades of young manhood – Looking For Space ultimately a delayed coming-of-age album. In a sublime extended version of The Time Of Our Lives, with a lilting melody, crystalline synths and ecstatic shrills, the singer remembers his adventures skateboarding in Japan. 

On F.E.A.R, a carpe diem stomper with ripping rock guitar, Mehrtens flips the Jedi Grandmaster Yoda's iconic "dark side" quote from Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace. He manages to personalise what again would otherwise be cliché in Hollywood Dreams.

Looking For Space is a soundtrack for escape: music for surfing trips, bungee-jumping dares, or cosy The Lord Of The Rings marathons. Better days.