Emotional Oranges exist in a murky, haze-filled, internet-driven reality of their own creation. The sultry, nighttime R&B group's affinity for The Weeknd, Sade and The XX fuses together in their sound, giving them a nostalgic, solemn feel, while they create an inescapable groove. "We really wanted to blend hip hop 90s drum breaks—everything [DJ Premier] was doing, all the way to what Jay Z was doing with Kanye—blending that with 80s jazzy guitars," said the project's producer and singer, who Noisey is calling Emo for anonymity's sake.
Emotional Oranges have managed to keep their identities secret, while building hype around a handful of singles, all of which were released over the course of the last year or so. Despite their anonymity, they communicate with fans directly every day, most often via Instagram message, carrying engaging dialogue with the "citrus squad," as they refer to their followers. But that's as much of themselves as they're willing to give for now.
There’s an entire cottage industry devoted to unearthing prolific artists whose work never reached the masses. Jackie Shane, Searching for Sugarman's Rodriguez, and Detroit's Death (not to be confused with the Florida death metal band, Death) all saw their work appreciated long after their respective artistic peaks.
But unlike these artists who mostly worked hard to have their music and identities known, Emotional Oranges know the power of a mysterious set of singles and a perfectly curated Instagram account (which references their influences like Daft Punk, The Weeknd, and Lauryn Hill, among others, while also creating an identity based on the color orange). "We are trying to walk that line of like making music or art we love and also just be regular," Emo said. "The anonymity is half to protect us from our normal lives... Let us be able to have girlfriends and eventually like, wives, kids," he continued.
Emotional Oranges’ story began four years ago, while individual members of the collective (who they are or how many people make up the group is unknown at this point) all worked regular jobs, some as songwriters and producers for other projects. "If you listen real carefully, on our first single 'Motion,' that’s our first singer. She's an A&R at a big label. The rest of the songs are our new singer," Emo said, stressing just how much this collective is comprised of so-called "normal" people.
With their just-released EP, The Juice Vol. 1 and a small but strategically consequential North American and European tour ahead of them (many dates are already sold out), Emotional Oranges' anonymity might not last forever. "I guess people can come to the shows and see us, but we're not going to talk about who we are," Emo said.
The Juice Vol. 1 picks up where the band's gradual single release left off, offering a total of eight tracks including the singles they've released over the last year. Similar to the way The Weeknd built hype early in his career, the collective has created a mystique with each single drop. But Emotional Oranges' approach to songwriting leaves more room for earnest vulnerability tethered to a funky, disco-like breakbeat groove that guides their subdued vocals. The EP has equal parts clunky DFA style basslines, Adrian Utley-during-peak-Portishead-level-of-restraint guitars, and Drake-adjacent sentimentality.
On "Motion," their first and most popular single, the simple restraint carries steamy vocals signaling the arrival of the ideal intimate partner. "Personal" expands on the band’s musical abilities, showcasing the guitarist's penchant for creating nostalgic soundscapes, over a nu-disco beat. "Good to Me" reimagines The S.O.S. band's "Just Be Good to Me" for the internet age. "It's got that [S.O.S. Band] disco energy, but you can give it that hip hop groove," Emo said.
As Emo spoke about the project that's been four years in the making, he couldn't help but let moments of unrestrained enthusiasm seep in.
"We've all worked regular jobs. We're very regular people. And we came together for one unified vision. I tried a lot of things in my life that didn't work. I tried to put so many things together. It just came down to authenticity. I think we spent like $7,000 mixing this record and that's it. Everything else was just us. This rehearsal space cost 60 bucks, and we’re in here jamming. That’s the beauty of it to us."
The Juice Vol. 1 is out now.