Wild Mercury Sound

Arbouretum: "Song Of The Pearl"

John Mulvey

First off, a quick plug, since we have Crystal Antlers playing Club Uncut tonight (Tuesday January 27) in London. Tickets still available, apparently, and the supports (The Delta Spirit and Banjo Or Freakout) are worth a look, too. Secondly, we’ve just announced that March’s headliners (after Richard Swift next month) will be Baltimore’s excellent Arbouretum, so it’s high time I wrote something about their “Song Of The Pearl” album that we’ve been playing a fair bit for the past few weeks.

There’s something in the ever-handy press-release that talks about “The expository yet emotionally resonant lyrics of [Arbouretum frontman] Dave Heumann at times recall songwriters such as Richard Thompson, Fred Neil and even Bob Dylan.” I can’t pretend to have studied the lyrics in depth, but there’s something of Thompson’s meticulously fraught melodic sensibility in a bunch of these songs, not least the opening “False Spring” and “Down By The Fall Line”.

But while Heumann and Steve Strohmeier’s guitars sometimes have a spittly vigour to them which faintly recalls Thompson circa “A Sailor’s Life” (or, indeed, that song’s obvious fans, Television), much of the playing here is more smudged and grungy. “ “Another Hiding Place” reminds me, I think, of the last Arbouretum album, “Rites Of Uncovering”, and how it harnessed Crazy Horse’s chug and clang so much more effectively than similar-minded contemporaries like the irretrievably doleful Jason Molina’s Magnolia Electric Company.

Arbouretum churn, for sure, but there’s a nuanced virtusosity to plenty of their playing, no little vigour and some fine tunes (all theirs, save Bob Dylan’s “Tomorrow Is A Long Time”) to keep them going. One thing we talked about the other day, playing “Song Of The Pearl”, was how much they sounded like Bob Mould; a mix, perhaps, of his fabulous “Workbook” solo debut with the first two Sugar albums.

At that time, Mould, of course, was forcefully adept at taking wandering, Thompson-esque melodies, rooted in the cadences of British folk, and giving them the muscle and sonics of American rock. Heumann and Arbouretum seem to be doing something hearteningly similar: check out how rolling toms and raga fuzz bulk out a frail and lovely folk melody on “Thin Dominion” without ever smothering it, for instance. It’s a neat trick.

And one which, I suspect, should work pretty awesomely live, if the staticky solos and incantations of “Infinite Corridors” is anything to go by. March 18 at Club Uncut, to recap.


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