Release Date: Jan 4, 2010
Record label: Bella Union
Genre(s): Indie, Rock, Pop
This is the most beautiful album I’m probably going to hear this year. I’m not just saying that because I’m from New Zealand and am partial to my compatriots. To be sure, the sophomore effort of Lawrence Arabia (aka James Milne) isn’t the most original, enveloped as it is in rainbow-bright ‘60s harmonies and baroque melodrama. But if you take its exquisite rendering of references to said era, add a dose of honest-to-goodness melancholy and dry nods to New Zealand (most obviously, Auckland in “Auckland CBD” and the Holden Commodore in “The Crew of the Commodore”), really, you would be one churlish party-pooper to dismiss Chant Master as just another exercise in pastiche.
Before listening to the new record from Lawrence Arabia – his first to be released in the UK – I had already become quite enamoured with the lead single, ‘Beautiful Young Crew’. So it was a more than pleasant surprise to find that at least two songs on the album cast a long shadow over it in terms of quality. ‘Beautiful Young Crew’ is a choral narrative of ego and isolation, and the wafer-thin distinction between friends and enemies, but the magic of Lawrence Arabia, AKA New Zealander James Milne, is to take these sojourns into the unfortunate side of life and make them sound beautiful.
There's something almost charmingly old-fashioned about James Milne's U.S. debut as Lawrence Arabia. There's of course that cinematic pseudonym, alluding to a Hollywood epic almost half a century old. There's also his unyielding devotion to 1960s pop music, which treats the Beatles catalog as untrod territory.
New Zealand-born James Milne has put himself about a fair bit over the last few years – touring with Okkervil River, scoring movies and winning awards back home – and along the way has honed his sunshine-pop chops to a high gleam. Chant Darling is something of a grab-bag of influences: a lot of Beach Boys and Beatles, a bit of Fleetwood Mac, and even a little Afro-pop twinkling here and there. It comes together beautifully on Apple Pie Bed, an FM hit-in-waiting that is genuinely hard to pin down, rolling up all the above and more in three-and-a-half lovely minutes.
James Milne’s alter-ego adopts a narrator persona for a journeyman’s worldview. Natalie Shaw 2009 Lawrence Arabia, the alter-ego of New Zealand's James Milne, returns with his second full-length LP after stints in Okkervil River, The Brunettes and The Ruby Suns. It's only apt then that after upping sticks to London via Port Chalmers and Stockholm, his second album Chant Darling invents a journeyman's self-mocking world of despair and disdain, easy on the ear and graciously free of the twee sentiment that could so easily come as part of the 60s-aping production.