|delusions of adequacy
There's been a lot of albums released by bands who take up the slow-core standard and embrace restraint over noise. But few bands sound like they remember why this approach was used in the first place. Instead of just turning down the guitars and paying more attention to the white space between instruments, the embrace of music that can be slow and yet still as vital and powerful as if played loud is rare. Enter the UK's arco, a band willing to drop the "core" from the genre title and embrace slow as powerful.
arco makes music that's quiet and lush, but not in the way you may be thinking. There isn't the shoegaze layering here, although enough instruments are used at points to create the illusion. There's a reason why this album is perfectly titled, Restraint. There are electric guitars and synths, but they're still restrained and mixed perfectly with Chris Healey's vocals. It's Healey's voice - hushed, breathy, as if singing to you in confidence - that are the framework to these songs.
Listen to the great washes of guitar and synths and cymbals of the opening "Diary," for example, which elevate the song to something powerful and climactic without ever resembling anything loud or noisy. In fact, it's beautiful and lush without being layered or over-produced, and the result is still somehow quiet and lovely, like a great embrace. The opening guitar to "Stream" is fast, yet still recorded so starkly that you can hear the slide of fingers along strings behind Healey's voice.
If those first two songs are a bit more upbeat, the band has several that are more subtle, gentle. See "Perfect World," the kind of ballad you may want to sing to your child thanks to its uplifting optimism, with gorgeous organ, some light horns, and acoustic guitar. "Meant" rides much more upbeat acoustic guitars that are somehow contrasted by an enveloping bassline and Healey's quiet vocals, making a most creative dichotomy of styles that succeeds. At times there's a stark atmosphere of coldness, such as on the atmospheric "Dunwich," the bare, almost-heartbreaking "Somehow," and the slightly fuzzed-out echo of "Last Bus." And for those who want their slow-core Low-like, see the sparse percussion and lightly strummed guitars of "Second Skin."
Most quiet music is meant to be played in quiet moments. arco's work, however, has enough weight to play at any time, even if you may find yourself falling into the warm embrace of Healey's voice and losing yourself in those washes of guitar and light synths. It's lovely, but it's not just gentle and sweet music, because there's a weight of atmosphere and intention here, and the result is quite amazing. (Jeff Marsh)
Like the British response to Low, Arco make ballads of the plaintive variety which are filled with innocence, hope and despair. Since their debut record, a myriad of similar artists have entered the scene such as Coastal and Empress, so 'Restraint' could be referred to as their attempt to reclaim the crown for pop of the most shy and introspective variety. As before, much of the new album is absorbed in fey, tender melodies but there's enough surprises along the way to show that Arco have a wide music collection. 'Diary' is an excellent way to start as Chris Healey's close-mic fragile whisper combines with the crunch of menacing guitars. It's a formula revisited on 'Silent Wonder' and 'Meant', where the guitars take a noticeably more rustic direction. Yet it's the comparatively languid 'Second Skin' which serves to be the best example of how they can deliver the heartache. In conclusion, a fine comeback from one of the more inventive exponents of the "quiet is the new loud" epithet.
Arco's debut 2000 album Coming To Terms blew me away. In the months following its release, anticipation of a follow up was the only thing on my mind. Little did I know, it would be another four years before the London trio would resurface with new material. Restraint is the result of the long wait, and upon first listen, it becomes painfully obvious why these songs took until now to see the light of day. "Diary" is a quiet, careful, and controlled invitation, giving a good indication that the group has grown and matured over time. The vocals are mournful and plaintive, the perfect accompaniment for the sparse instrumentation. There is a certain sense of resignation that runs throughout Restraint perhaps not so evident on their previous album; often taking a narrative stance, eliciting a strong sensible peculiarity. The players all have a good understanding of each other and their abilities, a strength especially exemplified in the wonderfully whimsical "Silent Wonder." Nothing about Arco seems contrived, all parts work in a constant consortium, feeding positively off energy and sound created together, as a tight, moving unit. Although upbeat at times, a sadness is prevalent, sometimes cleverly juxtaposed with beautifully revealing lyricism. Arco has taken their own sweet time and has crafted something timeless, possessing a now uncommon quality in simplicity. As a lone trumpet moan graces the edges of "Meant," I know that this band can do no wrong. Despite the majority of the track's minimalism and brevity, the eleven gems captured on this record are fully realized, and fleshed out into glimmering, desolate constellations scattered across a night sky. "Happy New Year" quietly reflects on the past, while glimpsing into what lies ahead, drenched with startling imagery and understanding. This is slow-core at its most effective, reminiscent of Low, Nick Drake, or Mark Eitzel; yet sounding nothing like anything done before. If pop music does indeed require a fresh start, Arco may just be the answer. "January skyline a slate wiped clean/ and stillness of air where nothing has been". (Kevin Chong)
Chris Healey wrote my favorite set of lyrics found on an album in 2004. Restraint, the mature follow-up to the endearing lullaby Coming to Terms, finds Healey in a thoughtful self-questioning as to how he might continue with his life. As for the compositions, this work stands out from its predecessor with a dense weave of trumpet and glockenspiel, as well as the more prominent contributions from Dave Milligan and brother Nick. Full of honest confessions and general wonderings - as in "Stream" where Healey moans, "I know a choice is coming/ For peace or honesty/ Pour concrete on the footprints/ From everything that you might be/ Love will set you free - Restraint is a testament to the notion that there is nothing more beautiful than a mind grappling with a world that transcends it.
|Flush St Louis (flushstl.com)
I've been in a less-than-stellar mood lately. Oh it's mostly the usual stuff - relationship problems, not enough money, the horrible state of the world, etc. But when I feel like this, I can't STAND hearing happy or shallow music. The only thing that works for me is music with some depth, music where I feel the artist would understand the kinds of emotions I'm feeling. From the moment I first heard it, Arco's RESTRAINT did more than just "work for me." In fact, it moved me profoundly. It's a potent piece of art on every level, especially emotionally. And I was startled to find that this London band is virtually unknown in the U.S., a situation that adds weight to my theory that much of the best popular music in the world right now is being made in Europe, in the commercial shadows. Where do I begin to discuss this amazing record? It's sort of like you're lost in a thick, dark fog, feeling alone and panicky, without your bearings, and suddenly a stranger emerges from the vaporous mass. He hangs out with you for a while, says a couple of profound things, points you in the right direction, then moves on, leaving you with the impact of the visit and a bit of a lighter load. That's certainly how I felt listening to the achingly intimate voice of singer/songwriter Chris Healey, the mastermind of this band. Over the course of eleven stirring compositions, Healey is right in your ear-with a voice startlingly fragile and upfront. You can hear every word he sings, and the depth of feeling in his gentle voice, which seldom rises above a Nick Drake-Archer Prewitt sort of delivery (with moments not dissimilar to Thom Yorke in ballad mode), is remarkable. Where has this guy been, and why aren't the trendy music rags extolling his talent as they do so many others?
Well, it turns out this is Arco's second full-length release (they've also put out a few EPs in the U.K.). The other members of the band besides Chris Healey include his twin brother Nick on drums and bassist/guitarist Jeff Milligan. The discipline these guys show in the service of a mood is more than admirable. On "Dunwich," there's just a lonesome electric guitar and Healey's vulnerable vocal to hold your attention. And boy, does it do so. There's a part near the end where Healey's voice jumps to a higher octave, and it's mesmerizing. My personal favorite song, though, is "Last Bus." With the guitar distorted to a mesmerizing Cocteau Twins-like shimmer and Healey's voice barely above a sad whisper (which is mixed so upfront, though, that it sounds like he's telling you a really important secret), the musical landscape created by this song is utterly haunting. "Last bus sails away/And night calls an end to another day/No more you can do/To fight the things you need/To get you through," sings Healey. "We're all the same/As the last bus sails away." I had shivers down my spine that lasted for an eternity during this song. It's an absolute stunner, one of the most intimate four minutes I've experiened with a record this year. The rhythmic strumming and percussion on "Meant" (which features a startlingly unexpected trumpet solo) and the sweetly melodic ballad "Perfect World" are probably easier entry points for the uninitiated. The latter tune is just exquisitely pretty and emotionally open. "Sorry I didn't like your point of view/Didn't mean to upset you or hurt you/Find it hard to tell those sweet little lies/Always finding fault when I could compromise/I just want a perfect world. " The lyrics are strong and touching enough on their own, but when Healey's tender voice is the vehicle expressing them, the effect is utterly compelling. Honestly, some of this stuff comes across like Healey has reinvented the singer/songwriter aesthetic to his own specifications, and it makes certain unnamed "greats" from the past pale in comparison. Normally, I'm not that interested in HOW an artist records their work; I just want to have a satisfying response to it. But with Arco's ability to conjure an atmosphere so evocatively and to capture pristine vocals on disc in such a captivating manner, I'd love to get the technical dossier for some of the songs here and take it to a lot of other rock bands trying to get all emotional on us these days. "Here, do it like THIS," I'd tell 'em. But most probably, not many others can do it like Arco. "Happy New Year" is one of the prettiest, most haunting ballads I've ever heard; "Second Skin" and "Silent Wonder" (a state I was in throughout listening to this disc) are almost as good, and benefit immensely from Nick Healey's tasteful drumming. I suppose the only caveat I would issue regarding this disc is that the songs are pretty much all of a piece, meaning that they're melancholy and mostly slow. If you're not in that frame of mind, i.e. if you're lookin' to party down or something, this ain't your record. On the other hand, if you're feeling lonely, detached, philosophical or burdened by existential angst as I've been for weeks now, Arco's your band. This music won't CURE what ails you, but it'll make you feel like you're human, at least. Because that's Healey's greatest gift here; he has shared the depths of his human soul with us, through music that is so achingly real and captured with such purity, that it serves powerful notice that you're NOT alone. You're part of this thing called the human race, and there are others who understand your struggle. RESTRAINT is a real treasure, the kind of record that will occupy a very special place in your record collection once you experience its powerful moods. For me, this band is a minor miracle. They came along right when I needed them, and provided a soundtrack for some real soul searching. Thank you, Arco. I think that fog is beginning to lift... (Kevin Renick)
Four years in the making, London-based trio (and veterans of Terrastock 3, never let it be forgotten) Arco's aptly-titled second album speaks volumes for the benefits of restraint. Restraint both in terms of their songwriting and delivery - both of which are at once hushed, minimal and resigned - and restraint in the way that Arco haven't followed the well-trodden trail that bands so often do and rush headlong to deliver songs in the wake of a success. And a success their debut album 'Coming to Terms' decidedly was, with four star reviews and the inevitable comparisons to the works of Belle & Sebastian and Elliott Smith dripping from the pens of critics and fans alike. There's no reason either why both critics and fans shouldn't take to 'Restraint' in the same way; eleven songs (again) and no surprises, the same air or sad desolation and euphoric consolation throughout, and yet a subtle hint of a new maturity and understanding - empathy perhaps - on numbers such as 'Stream' and 'Meant'; for yes, even the titles are minimalist. An excellent album for drifting to and away with; neat cover photo too, one which looks computer generated (as so many album covers today sadly do) but which, remarkably, isn't. (Phil)
Itís been 4 years since Arcoís debut album, Coming To Terms, won them widespread acclaim and, despite the long gap, Restraint looks set to continue the trend.
Restraint is not just the albumís title but a single word that sums up the whole thing; itís quiet, simple and ready to burst with emotion. Chris Healey sings with a stripped-back vocal intensity similar to Frankie Machine, while he and the rest of the band (Dave Milligan and Nick Healey) gently lilt in such a relaxed manner that itís a wonder they donít drop their instruments sometimes.
Fans of Belle & Sebastian and the aforementioned Mr Machine will love this. And so will everyone else, for that matter. ***** (Andy Malt)
|the brag magazine
One of the most unnoticed and overlooked albums of last year was by a small UK band called Arco, you might have seen them on the Darla website or thrown around in small self help twee-indie circles. Their album titled Restraint is a very tiny affair... no huge rock sounds or theatrics just beautiful portraits of despair and that overlooked subject matter, love.
Foreign Born - 'We Made Pleasure'
Tresspassers William -'Lie in the Sound'
Ulrich Schnauss -'On My Own'
The Customers -'The Customer is King'
The whole Arco album, brilliant!
Four years on from debut album Coming To Terms, the London trio return with a second gentle breathe through bittersweet, leafy melodies that embrace heavy sadness and soaring euphoria alike. Desolation and consolation the songs' watchwords, they drift on clouds of Chris Healey's minimalist watery guitar and fragile vocals. It's a nocturnal ambience, strung out hearts on the cusp of dawn that muse upon relationships broken with the smallest words, hopeless dreams, heads fuddled with the confusion of the world and feelings that refuse to numb. After the nerve endings of hurt that poke through such songs as Second Skin, Silent Wonder and Get Through This, they finally bid farewell on relatively more hopeful terms with Happy New Year and its prayer that love will find a way to light up the faces of everyone hurting in the knowledge that everything changes. Not one to have you skipping round the bedsit, but anyone looking to drown in a forlorn funk should investigate. (Mike Davies)
|Comes With A Smile
Probably feeling the breeze from a passing Blue Nile album upon their necks, London three-piece arco deliver their first album in four years, the reluctant follow-up to "coming to terms".
Eleven songs in around half an hour, "restraint" is as unassuming and unobtrusive as its title suggests. The words, "can you turn that down a bit," will not be heard in the homes of arco album owners.
Songwriter Chris Healey likes to keep things simple. There's not a wasted note or word in his songs, all delivered in one of the purest voices you're ever likely to hear, backed by his own economically assured guitar playing, brother Nick's barely-there drums and Dave Milligan's stealthily lurking bass. Rumour has it that during a rare live performance, someone did indeed hear a pin drop.
This really is music for the small hours and wet Sunday mornings. Healey's time is spent pondering the big questions and encapsulating these ideas in short, succinct verse. There's also an undercurrent of cynicism that means he never dips into the saccharine. When he states "I want a perfect world" you don"t for a second think he believes he'll ever see one. But he makes it sound like a perfectly reasonable request. And when, on "get through this", he sings, "laughter's pain's truth denied / and anger's shame trying to hide", you can't help but allow your thoughts to enter the spaces between the notes, to mull over his words. Or follow his next assertion, that "if silence can't explain / nothing will."
At the album's end, the air of menace created by "last bus" is broken by the hopeful realism of "happy new year" where, away from the throng, he raises a glass "to everyone hurting / praying this time it all becomes clear / here where the light is pale and uncertain."
Hope tinged with sadness tinged with hope. That's the arco promise. (Matt Dornan)
|what's on in london
Speaking to sharp-witted Chris Healey, singer, songwriter and guitarist with slo-core underachievers Arco, I point out that his tunes make Nick Drake sound like Russ Abbot. He has to admit this is an apt description. Chris is a master of gentle, dreamy tunes that have an atmosphere, but it's atmospheric rather than comedic. And this is Arco's appeal. It's a busy world out there and tunes like 'Diary', from their impressive new album Restraint, are just the sort of thing to relax and contemplate to. Chris' guitars wash over you like an invigorating body spray and have the same effect that those early Cocteau Twins releases had. Your mind is cleansed, and your mood refreshingly cerebral.'Stream' is like Smashing Pumpkins doing Nick Drake while 'Dunwich' has an almost hymn-like quality. The only thing missing from the typically English Sunday morning melancholy is the church bell. Arco rejoice in chiming minor chords on 'Silent Wonder' while on 'Meant' they swim with dreamy acoustic guitars and splash about with jazzy trumpets. Just don't call Arco shoegazers, they turn their heads to the sky and dream. You'll want to do the same. (john coleman)
For those of you who don't know let me start by telling you that Arco are a band from London who produce music so gentle and fragile it makes Nick Drake sound like a death metal growler in comparison!
Four years after the imperious 'Coming To Terms' the band are back, and I'm pleased to say they pick up from where they left off. From the opening strums of 'Diary', the tone is set for the rest of the album. The beautiful lullabye-esque vocals of Chris Healey are as mesmerising as ever, and the slow, minimalist backing of David Milligan on bass makes for the ideal gentile soundscape. 'Perfect World' is one of the most tender and heart-wrenching songs I have heard this year, and the introduction mid-track of a brass section (well, one instrument with a muffler I reckon) is genius. Throughout, the tempo remians constant; it never once attempts to shake you out of the hazey aura of relaxation that the whole album exudes. Closing with my new song for January 1st, 'Happy New Year', the band potentially achieve what Art Brut lyrically phrase they aim to in writing a song "that could make Israel and Palestine get along", with a perfect vocal and musical concoction for reflection.
Simple and soft, slow and sad-these words describe the music of Arco, a trio from England known for writing the quietest songs imaginable. Chris and Nick Healey are twins, the former on guitar and vocals and the latter on percussion. David Milligan rounds out the trio on guitar and bass. Dreamy Records' latest Arco release, Restraint, proves that soft music is good music.
Swirling with melancholic beauty, "Diary" opens with a surprising climax for the group, which is known for keeping things as quiet as can be. "Somehow" is enchantingly soft while "Meant" may be one of the quickest songs Arco has yet written but could possibly be considered a ballad for the average pop band. Including a trumpet and a quick guitar strum, in "Meant" Healey chants:
only love can save
and we admit defeat
to the fate that we were
never meant to cheat
Poetic love is as signature a theme in Arco songs as the quiet nature of each track. "Get Through This" has a catchy guitar, lightly plucked, added to the lyrical poetry of Chris Healey. "Happy New Year" closes the album on a strong point - melodic, catchy and memorable. Throughout Restraint are songs of impeccable beauty, of sadness and longing, of hope and of hope lost; once and for all showing that simplicity can bring with it a powerful message.