The PhiLL(er)

Song of the Pearl Cover

Song of the Pearl
Thrill Jockey Records

Musically speaking (because, hey, that's what we do here) Arbouretum are the (very) loud next-door neighbors of Will Oldham, and it's possible that Micah Blue Smaldone lives on the other side. Here we have an album of gothic Americana that isn't afraid to rock its nuts off. Even the delicate "Down by the Fall Line", which sounds like it might be happy in the psychedlic fields of Stonehenge in the mid-1960s, despite its slowish pace and picked-out arpeggios that trip along with Dave Heumann's vocal lines, has just enough dirtiness in some of its guitar sounds to hint at the inner Keef trying to fall out of its rather elegant tree. Or if you prefer, imagine Sugar-era Bob Mould doing an album of Fairport Convention covers. There's also something appealingly Jethro Tull about the proceedings (although don't push that too far, and there's no flute, thank God; what I mean is the English folk thing, okay?). Anyway, this hippyish interlude comes after the blistering opening track and its no-less blistering follow-up. The title track manages to fuse the country-gothic sounds in a balance that depends on which part—the guitars, the violins, or the vocals—you decide to focus on, and if you don't focus on anything, well, you've just got a delicately balanced piece of music. As with another of Dave Heumann's projects, Human Bell, the songs here are based on simple riffs and ideas, and work by exploring the possibilities of those ideas; unlike Human Bell, however, here the ideas stay focused on the riff in a more straight-up folk/rock songwriting style, in which the exploration happens through the layers of the instruments rather than variations on the musical theme. "Infinite Corridors" explores in a little over six minutes what its parents would've done in 15 or 20, especially if those parents were on stage at Woodstock with heads full of LSD (let's call them Jefferson Airplane for argument's sake, even though it's not all that accurate), going into mid-paced blues mode for some long, feedback-laden guitar notes, and then busting out into full-blast nutsack-rockage of the type I told you it wasn't afraid to do back in the second sentence. And the whole album finishes off by letting you down gently. Anyway, if I've had to namecheck your parents' (or, depending on how old you are, your grandparents'?) favorite bands in this review, don't worry. There's nothing actually retro or backward-looking in this album. It manages, through solid songwriting and the musicality of its instrumentalists, to be a thoroughly forward-looking 21st Century piece of guitar rock that uses the music of forty-some years ago as its foundation. We should all be glad about this.

Arbouretum are going to be touring throughout Spring/Summer 2009, so keep your eyes out and ears open, because if they rock this hard and wonderfully on a studio album, I can only imagine they'll leave you in tears of rock joy when they're live on a stage.