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ORIGIN (Buy CDs by this artist)
The Origin (Virgin) 1990
Bend (Virgin) 1992

You might expect the four pallid, contemplative fellows posed on the cover of the Origin's self-titled debut to fill their debut album with "The Sounds of Silence." Thankfully, they don't, but The Origin does offer earnest folk-rock that breaks the mold only when a distinctive piano lead arises. The Southern Californians' neo-hippie jamband attributes are likewise tempered by piano, leaving the Origin sounding like Ben Folds if he weren't a dork, or Tori Amos if she were. The Origin was produced by Paul McKenna (Amos) and David Kershenbaum (Joan Baez, Joe Jackson, Tracy Chapman; he also executive produced Tori Amos's first album). "Growing Old" is the band's magnum opus, an uplifting romp powered by Rony Abada's propulsive drumming, Topper Rimel's limber bass lines, Michael Andrews' sunny guitar and vocals ("the smile outside covers lies like the ocean tide") and Daniel Silverman boppin' away at the keys. Much of the album is more easygoing but still offers memorable piano-pop like "Everybody Needs Love" and "Lonely Place Alone." Selections without the distinctive 88s — "Set Sails Free," "Who Would've Known" — lead the group into lukewarm Toad the Wet Sprocket waters; the melodramatic dirges of "Never Coming Down" and "Troubles on the Inside" leave them to drown. There are no surprises in the Origin's sentimental pretties, but the rollicking "Pull the Weight," with a cool string intro, world-beat break and stirring exit, does vary this awfully timid collection at the end.

Some of Bend retains the debut's attractive yet dispensable piano-based folk vibe ("Jumping to Fall," "Yes, I Want"), but the group was evidently more ambitious the second time out. With producer Jeffrey Wood, the Origin trade in their black T-shirts for floppy hats and try their hands at subdued psychedelia, dosing out everything from Donovan (the title track) to '70s prog-rock ("Candymine") to the paisley underground ("Racing With the Moon"), complete with Hammond organ, spacey textures and a finale titled "Trapped in a Dream Machine." The album falters in a frivolous stab at modern-rock radio ("Bonfires Burning") that reveals the band's broad, sometimes unattainable aspirations, but Bend is still a well-crafted swan song from four folkies who simply couldn't find their niche.

As of 2003, an unrelated death-metal unit from Kansas was using the name Origin for its own evil doings.

[Floyd Eberhard]