Looks like we’re heading deep into 2011 releases now, and this latest by Arbouretum, slated for January, is a really good one. If you’ve not latched on to this distinctly underrated Baltimore band, there’s a bit of catching-up available here: a piece on their last album, “Song Of The Pearl”; a live review from 2009’s blinding Club Uncut show; and something about Dave Heumann’s recent side-project, Coil Sea.
Since that 2009 tour finished, Heumann has fiddled with Arbouretum’s lineup, and it initially looks like bad news that Steve Strohmeier – crudely, Richard Lloyd to Heumann’s Verlaine – has departed the ranks, to be replaced by a keyboards player.
As it turns out, though, “The Gathering” is if anything heavier than previous Arbouretum records. The familiar influences I’ve logged before are all present and correct; Heumann’s debt to the serpentine intricacies of Richard Thompson’s songwriting is more pronounced than ever. This time, though, it comes with an extra heft that someone here described as stoner folk-rock.
Consequently, when the opening “White Bird” thunders in, it sounds very much as if the martial rhythm section of Corey Allender and JV Brian Carey have been channelling something like Om. The tonal range of the whole album feels pleasingly narrow and focused; it drives on in this linear, psychedelic fashion, remorselessly. Soon enough, Heumann is cutting loose with one of his sensational solos, but he always keeps within the tight parameters of the song: this is a jam as a precision trip, not a freeform self-indulgence (not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with those, of course).
“The Gathering” goes on like this, with a pummelling sense of purpose, even when Arbouretum slow down on “When Delivery Comes” or Jimmy Webb’s fantasy on the theme of mythic archetypes, “The Highwayman”. The press notes say the album’s inspired by Jung, by the way, which may be significant here.
By the end, they clock up the ten-minute “Song Of The Nile”, which sounds like perhaps the best thing Arbouretum have ever recorded; a low-slung and blasted psych throbber that, when it gets rolling, features Heumann playing – and I suspect he won’t be over-enamoured with the comparison, but it’s meant well – in a way which reminds me of Josh Homme, circa Kyuss, perhaps.
The insistent drone pulse reminds me, too, of bands I hadn’t previously seen as such obvious fellow travellers: Wooden Shjips and Endless Boogie, especially the latter’s similarly climactic “A Life Worth Leaving”. I read recently of a New York show where Arbouretum, with Hans Chew guesting on keys, jammed on “Sister Ray” for an hour, before being replaced by Endless Boogie, who kept it rolling for another hour, more or less. Anyone see this, by any chance?