Release Date: Mar 10, 2009
Record label: Thrill Jockey
Genre(s): Indie, Rock
A few months after releasing a split with Pontiak, Arbouretum returned, true to form, with Song of the Pearl. At first glance, it appears that very little has changed over the two years since Rites of Uncovering. Baltimore's Dave Heumann still pumps out elemental, minor chord Americana in the key of Will Oldham or Bill Callahan, and filters it through loud, doomy amps to make moody jams that could be mistaken for a beefed up Gordon Lightfoot, or Neil Young & Crazy Horse rocking through Blue Cheer's gear.
The first video released to accompany Arbouretum’s latest album, Song of the Pearl, features black-and-white footage of a family following train tracks, suitcases in tow, and homeless-looking people living under bridges. It’s a dark and gloomy affair, akin to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, yet there’s also a radiance of hope; a hint that—despite their obvious displacement and whatever turmoil took them there—the people in the video seem somewhat happy, content even. There’s a simple appeal to their survival, and this lack of complication creates an atmosphere of triumph over adversity.
It says a lot about the strength of Arbouretum's sound that I was disappointed to find that not one track on Song of the Pearl ran over ten minutes. In fact, only one runs over six. How can the band who gave us stoned-loner epics like "Pale Rider Blues" and "The Rise" on their fantastic Rites of Uncovering not follow them up with, say, a meandering 30-minute, Roy Harper-style Side B? Well, the answer is that Song of the Pearl isn't about the tumbling guitar solos -- and, once the initial disappointment passes, this move mostly works out for the band.
Of the eight tracks on Arbouretum's second album and first for Thrill Jockey, 2007's Rites of Uncovering , only four finished their damaged, crunchy, soul-blues sighs in less than four minutes. The others barreled beyond the five, seven, eight, and 11-minute marks, respectively, all powered by the spiraling guitar solos of Dave Heumann. At Rites of Uncovering 's best, Heumann sounded like indie rock's new guitar idol, unpredictably dodging strict meter, melody, and form.
Arbouretum’s Rites of Uncovering was one of 2007’s overlooked triumphs, a fusion of delicate, Celtic folk melodies and guitar pyrotechnics. Dave Heumann, the band’s guitarist, singer and main songwriter, laid yearning melodies over tangled chords and buzzing distortion, in songs that were part Appalachian lament and part Hendrix-style freak-out. With Song of the Pearl, Arbouretum’s third album, Heumann’s band slips slightly, but distinctly, into the rock side of the equation.