Release Date: Feb 15, 2011
Record label: Thrill Jockey
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Heavy Metal, Alternative Singer/Songwriter, Stoner Metal, Sludge Metal, Space Rock, French Pop, Guitar Virtuoso
Carl Jung maintained until his death that the Liber Novus, the latter-day illuminated manuscript he moiled over for a decade and a half and then squirreled away from the public eye, possessed a radiance beyond his ken. It could only, he said, have been mined from the global subconscious. The same could be said about The Gathering, the Red Book-inspired new record that finds Baltimore psych long-shots Arbouretum reborn as sludge-folk conquerors.
Startlingly close to perfect On their 2003 tour of the UK, Lungfish had taken to covering ‘Well... All Right’ in the manner of Blind Faith. It was unexpected, but somehow made perfect sense. If, by chance, you caught one of these mercurial performances and fancy a whole album of similar stuff then look no further than this latest Arbouretum release, a quietly joyous mix of hazy vintage rock, reflective concepts and meditative repetition clothed in unobtrusive keyboard whorls, lazily ecstatic guitar solos and the rich, golden voice of David Heumann.
How old you are probably has a large effect on how you consume Arbouretum’s folk-tinged dirge rock. Many of its beard-donning, Pabst-swilling fans (this critic included) weren’t around for the first, and maybe even the second, wave of bands that inspired this music. There’s also probably a larger Grateful Dead influence present than most folks would care to admit—albeit a much slower, sludgier, non-chorus-concerned Grateful Dead.
These Baltimore psych-rockers' fourth album is apparently based on Carl Jung's Red Book, in which the psychoanalyst turned his gaze inward to document that which "burst forth from the unconscious" – which, in Jung's case, turned out to be snakes, strange landscapes, wise old spirit guides, that sort of thing. And so from one set of faintly mystical archetypes to another: for it is vintage psych-blues riffs and mid-paced wig-outs that have burst forth from Arbouretum singer-guitarist Dave Heumann's consciousness here. Fortunately, Heumann has one of the most distinctive voices around, with a unique, heavy-folk feel to his grand, hymnal melodies, and there are some welcome new digressions this time, too, including swelling strings (When Delivery Comes), upshifts in tempo (the garagey Empty Shell) and a cover (Jimmy Webb's past lives regression therapy foot-tapper, The Highwayman).
Baltimore's Arbouretum are singular on the stoner psych-rock scene. Due in large part to the vision of lyricist, frontman, and lead guitarist Dave Heumann, their sound is simultaneously sprawling, devastatingly heavy, sludgy, meandering, and mysterious. The Gathering showcases a lineup change showcasing keyboardist Matthew Pierce. Paradoxically, the band's grimy aesthetic doesn't suffer; they're even heavier.
The sludgy, slow-moving river of electric guitar at the foundation of Baltimore, Maryland quintet Arbouretum’s fourth album, The Gathering, represents a sizeable shift from the band’s plucky infancy. Where the band’s 2004 debut, Long Live the Well Doer, was tinny, reserved, and sentimental, The Gathering is a bullying, commanding set and marks the group’s evolution into a new territory of snarling, classically styled rock. But despite their new effects-layered approach, the band’s music remains centered on Dave Heumann’s trademark bawling vocal style.
As their name would suggest Arbouretum offer a pastoral type of folk-rock. However, their fourth album The Gathering sees the Baltimore natives turn up the volume considerably, like constructing a great big highway down the middle of their carefully constructed rural idyll – the nature references are still there (the opening track is entitled The White Bird), but the whole thing seems much more solid, concrete and loud. Although perhaps the road simile should be dropped there so as not to inadvertently encourage driving under the influence as this is a journey that's likely intended to be taken with a joint or two, essentially being an homage to that kind of strung-out, psychedelic rock as popularised by The Grateful Dead.
When Arbouretum first formed, in 2002, they offered dusty, dimly-lit folk rock that suggested a less mysterious Califone-- muffled drums, Appalachian finger-picking, tape hiss, dark intimations in the lyrics. As time wore on, their sound sprouted psych-rock fuzz, which has since spread like kudzu to overtake everything. On The Gathering, their fourth full-length, there is precious little evidence of their former shimmering acoustic beauty.
Writing about the self or from the self in one way or the other is the point of reference for a majority of song-based rock music. This usually brings to mind songs filled with first-person reflections on attitudes, motivations, social relations, needs, desires, and emotions. Though the language and themes inevitably are simple and repetitious, great songwriters usually can make due with the limitation, wrenching out new meanings by applying perspective.