Arborea's Buck and Shanti Curran asked me if they could listen to the test vinyl pressings of their new album, Fortress of the Sun, at my house. They'd heard the record player for themselves. And they didn't actually have one, in-house. Well, yeah.
I couldn't leave well enough alone, though, and tried to rig something up through my folks' old tube-filled receiver, which turned out to have a shot left channel . . . Anyway, receiver number three — my trusty Pioneer from college — ended up doing the trick, hooked up to a Technic table.
Good thing. There was something special about watching the care with which they listened. Was that a bent note? Or just a truck tearing by on Route 202? It was the truck. The listening experience stood right up to Ray LaMontagne's Gossip in the Grain, and he issued that 10-song album as a double disc on 180-gram vinyl, just so the grooves could have some room to breathe.
The record-listening party was a bit of a tease, though, wasn't it? It's not like they left me a test copy. Was it different to hear it ripple through my 140-plus-year-old house, vibrating the still-settling frame for the ultimate analog experience? It sure was. But digital tracks and a good set of headphones work, too.
The listening experience is just so vital to enjoyment of their music. Don't half-ass it. Every note is gently placed, as though on a velvet cushion. That may sound like it could be too precious, but the Currans are fully invested. You can't imagine disbelief.
Which is probably why, like their metal mirror image Ocean, they are particularly critically acclaimed and have caught highly favorable mentions in the New York Times and Rolling Stone. Their tour stops read like a posh travel magazine's table of contents. There's a reason the new album is being released by ESP-Disk', home to albums by the likes of Sun Ra and Billie Holliday.
However, as of late the mainstream culture has shifted considerably acoustic and may ram right into Arborea if they don't watch out.
"After the Flood only Love Remains" is stop-in-your-tracks beautiful, and what passes for a single for them. If you can slow yourself down to their pace, see the world in half-time for a bit (which is almost impossible when you try to keep up with the pace of things like the Internet), it becomes incredibly catchy, a sing-along. Reimagined as a straight-up bluegrass song with fiddle and banjo, this would be what they'd call in Maine a "crowd please-ah." It's not quite as catchy as "Alligator," on their most-recent House of Sticks, but it's also less of an outlier.
Michael Krapovicky provides some electric bass to ground Shanti's ethereal vocals and Buck's layers of acoustic guitar and languid electric, which gives it some forward momentum and hints at Neil Young and Crazy Horse. On peyote.
It's an equine album, indeed. "Pale Horse Phantasm" comes out of the gate like a warm spring wind, Shanti's barest vibrato in the chorus allowing for the possibility of vulnerability and putting the song right on the fulcrum of narrative and lament. Late song, Buck provides a subtle backing vocal of just a few well placed words. The dynamics in Arborea's songs are slight adjustments, degrees to the left and right of center, but no less dramatic in their way than emo's roller coasters.