For me personally, over the last five years or so, Arbouretum have proved themselves to be just about the best band in the world currently recording music. Obviously, I know these things are highly subjective and there are cleverer bands, certainly; there are bands with broader musical ambition, probably; and there are trendier bands, unfortunately; but there is just something about what Arbouretum do that pushes all of my buttons and 2009’s ‘Song Of The Pearl’ was probably my album of the first decade of the twenty first century.
So, it is with a mixture of excitement and trepidation that I approach their new album ‘The Gathering’ (which, as a coincidental aside, was the name of my band as a ‘yoof’). Excitement as if it’s anywhere near as good as ‘Pearl’ it’s going to be a cracker indeed and trepidation because in my experience albums that I have been looking forward to as much as this one often disappoint.
I needn’t have worried though, from the moment that the warm, enveloping fuzz of the opening guitar line to ‘The White Bird’ washes out of the speakers it is immediately apparent that everything is going to be alright.
Dave Heumann, the driving force behind the band, is an exquisite guitar player but more than that, something about the tone that he achieves with said guitar that is extraordinary, it reaches out through my ears, direct to my cerebral cortex and rubs it with a warm sponge, magical.
But it’s not just the guitar sound that does it for me, it’s the whole package. The fuzzed, loping bass, the perfectly understated drumming, Heumann’s vocals, in places something like how I imagine and Elizabethan bard to sound and at others impassioned and pained coupled with his lyrical imagination, evoking the pastoral ballad tradition of English folk where peasants plough the fields for stones and then at the other extreme conjuring fantastical imagery of flying across the universe as a space craft pilot. All of these elements gel together to form a consistent, beautiful whole.
If I’m brutally honest, ‘The Gathering’ doesn’t quite scale the dizzy heights that ‘Song Of The Pearl’ did. The great moments are truly wondrous; ‘White Bird’, ‘Highwayman’ and ‘Waxing Crescents’ are all as good as this band have ever committed to tape, but ‘When Delivery Comes’, ‘Destroying To Save’ and ‘The Empty Shell’ feel a trifle under par, not to say they are bad by any stretch it’s just that the standard Arbouretum set is so very, very high.
One track deserves singling out for special mention though. The album closing, ten minute epic ‘Song Of The Nile’ is just utterly extraordinary. It’s a throbbing, pulsing organic beast of a tune that builds and builds, incorporating eastern, raga-like drone structures underpinning a western blues that take the listener on a wonderful musical journey. It caps an extremely good album perfectly.
Top tracks: ‘The White Bird’, ‘The Song Of The Nile’.
Released March 21 on Thrill Jockey
Echo Rating (((????•)))
Posted by Dan