The Weekly Jive

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Posted March 12, 2009 in Music

Arbouretum—Song of the Pearl (Thrill Jockey)

There was a moment in the early ’70s when the idyllic pagan tropes of Brit-folk turned darker and heavier, and the Black Sabbaths of the world supplanted the Fairport Conventions. Arbouretum, the Baltimore quartet led by singer Dave Heumann, would have been the perfect bridge between the two, marrying the former’s sinister riffs with the latter’s more inclusive psychedelic dynamics and mystical imagery. Heumann, who’s played in Will and Paul Oldham’s respective bands, naturally gives it all an American twist. He roots the dual droning guitars and floor tom-centric percussion of “Thin Dominion” in Native American rhythms, while several epic guitar interludes feature Heumann and Steve Strohmeier paying homage to Sonic Youth distortion and Crazy Horse feedback. True, Arbouretum’s last record, 2007’s Rites of Uncovering, felt more elemental, reflecting its inspiration, post-war ex-pat author Paul Bowles. There’s no such obvious thematic red thread here, but the album closes with a cover of Dylan’s “Tomorrow Is a Long Time” and that’s indicative of the more introspective narratives this time. But Arbouretum is mostly about texture and mood, and works best when Heumann’s laid-back verses erupt into classic stoner rock solos that bridge eras—mostly by demolishing them. (John Schacht)

 

White Lies—To Lose My Life (Geffen/Fiction) 

Dark themes don’t always equal dreary music. Take White Lies, for example. Bassist and primary lyricist Charles Cave favors morbid couplets, but on the band’s stunning first album To Lose My Life, everything is dressed up with sharp post-punk and upbeat New Romantic sounds (think old Echo & the Bunnymen and Ultravox, plus some Killers and Interpol). The London trio, barely out of their teens, has been the toast of Britain’s overly excitable music press since two EPs came out last year. This time, the hype is justified. Life recently made its U.K. chart debut at No. 1. Frenetic opening track “Death” finds versatile singer/guitarist Harry McVeigh repeating “this fear’s got a hold of me” to ultra-dramatic synth strains and stabbing guitar lines. “To Lose My Life” is driven by a Duran Duran-styled bassline and pleas to “grow old together and die at the same time.” Then there’s the haunting “Unfinished Business,” which revolves around doomed lovers. Here, church organ and surf guitar bursts lead the way (key line: “you’ve got blood on your hands and I know it’s mine”). Other standouts delve into a millionaire’s breakdown at a funeral (the picturesque “From the Stars”), pros and cons of Electro-Shock Therapy (austere, Joy Division-like “E.S.T.”) and a hostage drama ending in—you guessed it—murder (intense album closer “The Price of Love,” all awash in orchestral flourishes). Totally enrapturing. One of 2009’s best debuts so far. (George A. Paul) 

 

The Besties—Home Free (Hugpatch)

The Besties—it just sounds back-bin ominous, like the The Butchies or The Black fucking Circle, the kind of band you’d find in the racks and feel one of those curiosity tickles in the belly at what delirious things go on inside. That is . . . till you get a load of the tromp-pop number “St. Francis,” with its playful (yet in time) handclaps, or the Jewelish piano trotter “Man Vs. Wild,” and it’s like the whole dingy world went bubble up. It’s unexpected, but it’s not that they aren’t putting it on their sleeves, so to speak—these Brooklyn (via Florida) broads were weaned on punk but didn’t end up in that mire because, presumably, they couldn’t stop smiling . . . but there are hints, whispers, insinuations of roiling abysses at an archer’s range. That’s what sort of makes this a fun album in end, the infectiously happy fuck-a-duck that wins out. In the way that the Go-Go’s and the Bangles wore those sublimated sassy girl smirks through every kind of bad day—through the Cold War, really—so do Marisa Bergquist and Kelly Waldrop wave a well-meant middle finger at the whole stuck-up girl motif, and it’s as if there’s just nothing in the world neurotic enough to damper a spring feeling. Everybody knows it’s a damn sight harder to write upbeat than it is about the gutter, and The Besties manage this doozer with genuine—and paradoxically, rebellious—ease. Everything on Home Free is air-tight sonically; the ballpark organ in the closer “79 Lorimer” heads right into a field of poppy twee and twang. It’s like their bio says: Loud songs high on smarts, low on snot. (Braxton Leeds)

 

 


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