|"coming to terms" Pehr / U.S. reviews|
My new favourite band. Simple, fragile and extremely beautiful music. Surely some might say it's just too sad, but I don't see it like that. Sad music usually just makes me feel good and warm inside and actually cheers me up. Don't know why. Perhaps I just reflect some of my feelings through music that a shy sissy like me isn't capable of handling on my own. I'm not in love with sadness, but I need music like this to carry the worries away, so I can just be happy myself. Arco won't change my life or anything, but it makes me feel warm and good underneath. Just incredibly tender, heartfelt and honest music. Slower, sadder and more serene Clientele. Every song moves and touches me. An album that has eleven beautiful comforting lullabies righteously ends to a song titled "Lullaby" and to words "Just lay down your weary head / be at peace now / try and sleep now". I'm not that much into britpop (when it means Smiths, Stone Roses etc), but british bands such as Arco and Trembling Blue Stars make just outstanding and magical music.
Subdued, melodic, harmonious, guitar n bass n drums rock. Arco's record is mostly dreamy and soft, kind of like a spring breeze blowing through an open window, waking you at noon. And on the record, Dave Mulligan and the brothers Healy are definitely coming to terms with something, as is evident through all the escape imagery (song titles like alien, flight, driving at night, etc.) "Driving at Night" is exceptional and a real standout, definitely evocative of a bleary-eyed, lonely night drive, like going home when you really don't want to. It ranks up there with "Big Day Coming" as one of the best night driving songs. Certain songs also have an old-fashioned, nursery song feel like the aptly titled "Babies Eyes", which praises the simpler things in life. The songs are clean and pure, and great for night listening; they overflow with sentiment, and the universality of the themes mean that almost anybody can identify with at least some part of the songs. Not too far from Damon and Naomi, and even the Rachel's to some degree, anyone who likes sweet pop songs will like Arco. "All the World," is another quiet stunner, which, rather than rocking you, or moving you noticeably, just leaves you with a nice feeling inside, even though the subject matter is depressing: "with how many lovers do you have to sleep? To know you're alone in all this world" The plaintive closer, "lullaby," is the perfect night-cap, and puts you softly to sleep with enough thoughts to let you dream the eve away wrapped in gentle slumber.
Arco's debut album, Coming to Terms, is a whispered confession, a catalog of private fears and insecurities. This slo-fi sound, heartbreaking in its sensitivity, hasn't changed much since the band's 1998 UK EPs Longsighted and Ending Up. Arco shares a kinship with the slow moves of Low and Red House Painters, but Arco is much more stripped down, or lo-fi. Live, the group is so quiet that fans crowd close to the stage, afraid that any unnecessary noise will drown out the hushed sounds. The experience is worth the intense concentration. Certainly, angst, loneliness and lovelorn despair are topics known to many songwriters, but in Chris Healey's capable hands, Arco songs are never maudlin. Rather, the ultramelancholy tunes speak from the true heart of shy boys forced to worship from afar. In the woeful "Accident," Healey sings: "You're so beautiful / I just have to laugh... But how to tell you that / I can't imagine." At times, as in "Grey," it seems like the band is poised to rock out, but the level is kept subdued, peppered only with additional strings, piano or horns. Ultimately, the sad, slow songs triumph on Coming to Terms. As miserable as the lyrics seem, they're clothed in gentle folds of indie bliss. Arco proves that a band doesn't have to be loud or experimental to make an impact. Listen, and let the catharsis begin.
What a different world it would be if Arco were at the top of the charts instead of Eminem. Not much would get done (because the world would be filled with melancholy navel-gazers) but things sure would be pretty and the handgun crime rate would probably plummet by a couple thousand percentage points. Coming to Terms is mostly minimal, but not afraid to pour on the layers when they really count. Take "Accident," which slowly builds in a most purposeful and elegant manner, slipping in baroque synth bits in a manner that brings to mind both artists like Cardinal and Belle and Sebastian. Critics seem to like to use the word "desolate" to describe this CD, but I don't see it. Sad, yes, but my dictionary tells me that desolation connotes abandonment and isolation. When you're left with something as beautiful as Coming to Terms, you're never really alone.
This is the second release I've received from the west coast Pehr record label, and they're now two-for-two. Pehr is putting out great music here, folks, and it deserves to be heard. This time around we're graced by London trio Arco. Vocalist/songwriter Chris Healey has an angelic voice that sweeps lovingly over the instrumentation. On "Fight", Healey sounds like a dead ringer for former Pale Saints vocalist Ian Masters (and that's a big compliment).
The sound is centered primarily around shimmering acoustic guitar parts, accompanied at times by keyboards, bass, and light drum tracks. Some songs (such as the wonderful "Accident") even feature a horn or string section. Orchestral backups are often obtrusive or overbearing, yet Arco avoids these pitfalls with tasteful and restrained augmentation. Overall the music is dark, yet hopeful, blending effortlessly between minor and major segments.
First track "Speak" is understated gorgeousness, and flows smoothly into the album's catchiest tune "Alien". It's difficult to call out individual tracks, however, as the album is a solid whole from top to bottom. It would be insulting to lump Arco in with the rest of the slow-core bands, as they're too unique for that. Suffice to say, if you enjoy sparkling, lush acoustic music with otherworldly androgynous vocals (and why wouldn't you), then this is your band.
|Delusions Of Adequacy
Which should I have listened to first: the new Tram album or the latest from arco? Both bands are from the UK, and both fall into the wonderous realm of ethereal slow-core style of rock. And, frankly, both albums are absolutely amazing. Listening to one, however, may evoke undue comparisons to the other. So the challenge is to keep arco entirely separate.
Instead, I shall describe for you the soft beauty that is arco. Imagine breathy, high-pitched vocals that sound as if they're spoken in moments of intimacy, sparsely strummed guitar, very light and airy song structures, and the most wonderful pop feelings around. Now add sentimental and often heartwrenching lyrics about relationships and the general day-to-day nature of life, and you get a sense of how absolutely and profoundly fitting Arco's music is.
"Speak" is basically Chris Healey's voice and sparse guitar accompaniment. It's quiet and beautiful, and it leads nicely into the Red House Painters-esque "Alien." While this one does have moments of louder electric guitar and drums, it's dominated by its moments of acoustic guitar and Healey's soft vocals.
This entire album is basically one long drive on a quiet summer's evening, a fact that's especially fitting during "Driving at Night," the highlight of Coming to Terms. Not quite as quiet as the preceding tracks, it's still a sparse and wholly restrained work of beauty. "It's not as if I don't love you, I do," Healey sings in his quiet voice over some lovely guitar and soft bass, and if you don't believe him, you're not listening. "Babies' Eyes," again, is bare-bones guitar and vocals, pure and simple and perfect, while "Accident," the album's other highlight, uses melodic and soft guitar as well as even more expressive vocals to completely consume you. The nice soft trumpet, used both in the quieter and the louder moments - for this song does have a bit more emphatic feel - fit this song to a tee.
"Movie" similarly uses some different instrumentation - in this case, soft strings - to create the mood, and add them to acoustic guitar, and Healey's vocals, and you get a lovely, almost ballad-like pop song. Things pick up a bit on "Grey," which adds more instrumentation for a more pop music sound, but "Into Blue" quiets down, a very calm song with the most lovingly picked guitar.
To continue surprising you, arco adds flute or a similar instrument as well as keyboards to "All This World," and Healey's voice gets, if anything, even more breathy, merging effortlessly with the guitar for an absolutely gorgeous sound. I have so much trouble listening to the words on this track, because I just keep getting lost into this wonderful pop song. "Lullaby" closes off the album, and it's just that, a lullaby of Healey's vocals and soft piano that will unerringly lull you to sleep. Ah, so lovely.
This is the kind of music that will absolutely overwhelm you, and what's amazing is that it does it in such an unassuming way. Sure, we've all heard how loud and fast rock music can be played. What's really challenging is playing it slow and restrained. arco are one of those bands that show off how minimalistic guitars, soft bass and drums, and gorgeous vocals singing about love and life can be oh so much more powerful than belting out lyrics and banging away on instruments. This music has a life of its own, a breathy, ethereal, and absolutely beautiful life.
Interesting, small records from bummed-out English guys with guitars are popping up like dandelions again -- there's a possibility that we're coming up on exciting times. Back in the mid '80s you couldn't walk past a high school without seeing at least one guy in a Smiths T-shirt, sitting by himself underneath a tree reading Oscar Wilde. With a little luck, cardigans could replace tongue-piercings as the de rigueur accoutrement of pouting post-adolescents across the country. One unprepossessing glimmer of hope is Arco's Coming to Terms, which recently got its U.S. release.
A textbook example of what's good about the encouraging resurgence of English rock, Coming to Terms features muted electric guitars closer in feeling to the stateliness of Joni Mitchell's Hejira than to the distortion-heavy chugga-chugga that presently clogs the nation's airwaves. Unlike this week's English rock posterboys Coldplay, though, Arco have no pretensions toward "importance." Vocalist Chris Healey seldom raises his voice above conversational level; most of the time, he's singing in an exaggerated whisper, and dwelling in a halting, almost hesitant manner on themes of loneliness and isolation.
"Tried so hard to find a voice inside me," he sings in "Accident," the album's shimmering highlight, "But nothing like the ones I've heard inspires me/And all the words I thought I'd find I haven't/I'm waiting for an accident to happen." Behind the twinkling guitar there's a faint trumpet sounding lonesome high whole notes, bringing to mind Factory Records' greatly missed (if hopelessly obscure) Stockholm Monsters. A lost moment in time, "Accident" conjures early-adult angst without getting all whiny about it. It's a stunner. Later, on the album-closing "Lullaby," a piano that sounds like it was last touched during World War I picks out lilting, dreamlike phrases while Healey sings, almost as though to himself: "Cast away your darkest fears, be released now/Still the pounding in your heart, be at peace now." It is delicate and wonderful, and quietly moving.
Nobody will be charging Arco with being too original anytime soon: They often sound a lot like Radiohead. But is this such a bad thing? Radiohead are, after all, probably the best big-ticket rock band in the world right now, and more bands that sound like them might mean fewer that sound like the Stone Temple Pilots, if our luck held out. Lacking the bubbling-lava rage that informs Radiohead in their most powerful moments, Arco opt for static, sad resignation. The album has its clunky moments -- the mournful "Grey" would have been best left in the high-school English notebook from which it sprang -- but on the whole, Coming to Terms is a surprisingly intelligent record, and worth the 33 minutes it takes to cast a gorgeous pallor over one's day. (john darnielle)
I have to admit that there's this part of me that has always wanted to be British. I'll wait for all of you to stop snickering before I continue. Finished? Good. Perhaps it's just the dumb American in me speaking, but looking back at all of the music I enjoy, a sizable portion of it has come from across the Atlantic. And this latest arrival, "Coming To Terms" by Arco, just intensifies said desire. I have no idea what it is, but there's precious few things that can be sadder, and yet more sophisticated, then a soft, whispery British accent. And wouldn't you know it, but Arco's Chris Healey has just about the softest, whispery-est voice in pop music. And that makes this album sadder than just about anything you're likely to hear all year.
Imagine Belle And Sebastian stripped of their smartass-ness, the Trembling Stars minus Bob Wratten's unhealthy fixations, or Mojave 3 without their Bob Dylan fetish. Music that's sadder than sad, and yet suprisingly free from any trace of self-pity or whining. The real reason isn't necessarily their lyrics (though poetic and pointed, they're nothing we haven't heard before), or their songwriting (which is certainly in line with the other mopey British bands that we all know and love, such as Trembling Blue Stars or The Clientele). The reason that Arco's music works so well is Healey's voice.
This is a voice so soft and delicate that it's almost a whisper; I'm surprised the microphone could even pick it up. Are the words that he's singing sappy and emotional? Oh yeah... but so help me if I don't get a tug at the heart when he softly sings "I feel like i'm suffering from a beautiful disease/When your sad pretty smile brings me down to my knees" ("Alien"). You may roll your eyes, but just wait until you actually hear it. And Arco just gets sadder as the album progresses. Eventually, "Coming To Terms" reaches its climax with "All This World". Listening to Healey sing "How many strangers d'you have to meet? How many old friends d'you have to see? With how many lovers d'you have to sleep to know that you're alone in all this world?", you wonder how he can even get out of bed, much less summon the strength to play those delicate melodies on his guitar.
Although "Coming To Terms" is barely over 30 minutes long, it feels so much longer than that. That's why the album's closer, "Lullaby", is such a beautiful way to wrap it all up. When Healey oh-so-softly sings "Cast away your darkest fears, be released now/Still the pounding in your heart, be at peace now/May your dreams bring joy and wonder through the night/And the morning find you glad to be alive" over a heartbreaking piano melody, it may be one of the most comforting things you'll ever hear.
I don't think I'll ever be as sad as this record. I hope to God that I'll never be as sad as this record. But if I am, if I can't seem to summon the strength to face the day, if it's all I can do to keep from breaking down, I'll take comfort in knowing that I won't have to go through it alone. (Jason Morehead)