Arbouretum - Let It All In Music Album Reviews

The long-running Baltimore folk-rock band has never sounded so at ease, or so electrifying.

Even when they were a young Baltimore band, Arbouretum felt proudly old. They emerged in the ’00s amidst a scene charged with youthful possibility —the electronic fantasias of Dan Deacon, the aptly named projections of Ecstatic Sunshine, the dream-pop diaries of Beach House. Arbouretum, meanwhile, mined Richard Thompson’s intricate British folk revivalism, Will Oldham’s stately country psychedelia, and the gnarled roots of both. The anachronism was alluring, a mysterious shade of gray lurking inside a kaleidoscopic city.

In the years since, Arbouretum have methodically adjusted that formula, tweaking familiar elements like a baker adjusting the ratios of a sourdough starter. In the process, they have alternately seemed listless or impatient. Maybe they’ve finally found their perfect balance, because they have never sounded more settled—or more quietly electrifying—than they do on Let It All In, their seventh and most assured album. After nearly two decades, Arbouretum have grown into their age.

Whether weaving intricate leads or exploding into Pentecostal solos, founder Dave Heumann has long been a rousing guitarist. But after 15 years, he helms a band that knows when to press him forward or let him roam. The gentle harmonies and surging chorus of “How Deep It Goes” lead to a bluesy and triumphant Heumann solo, while “Buffeted by Wind” channels the sublime warmth of the Byrds in their prime for a meditation about finding redemption in being deserted.

As a songwriter, Heumann has sometimes been burdened by tradition, attempting to shoehorn his experiences into antiquated inspirations. But Let It All In feels lived-in and newly cut from his core. He finds meaning in the high peaks and deep ravines of the American West and forces himself to stay awake through the night just to remember we can be remade with the morning. His images are subtly evocative: “Shifting grids in dreamsight’s fracture-written key” he intones on “A Prism In Reverse,” while on “Headwaters II,” he howls “The river’s born high/Where the sky breaks to meet the divide.”

The band, now in perfect lockstep, seems to understand him. They are as fragile as his gently crackling voice during the beautiful “Prism in Reverse,” as committed to overcoming doom as he is during “Headwaters II.” They crackle with the intensity of Television and the insistence of Endless Boogie throughout the title track, a 12-minute tirade about being overwhelmed by the world but trying to remain open to its wonder. For the second half, Heumann rabidly twists and turns through variations on a note or two, damning expectations of a guitar solo like Neil Young a half-century ago. The band cheers him on wordlessly.

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Arbouretum have never been concerned with being fashionable, but our times have changed to match their baseline anxiety. Heumann writes from the perspective of the perennially dispossessed, whether as the refugee of flooded coastal plains during the boogie-woogie thriller “High Water Song” or as ordinary folks seeking communion for the hypnotic “A Prism in Reverse.” Even when these songs are about fleeing some tough fix, Heumann documents the solidarity of our struggle for validation.

“No Sanctuary Blues” captures the curse and hope many of us face daily—waking each morning to find a world so crowded with the noise of the news that madness seems a turn away. Heumann gets lost in his guitar, its notes like a tangle of briars, but reemerges to flee his “mounting sense of lack.” The band soon arrives to join him, repeating a simple little riff for two minutes like it’s a communal mantra. In that moment, everything else falls away.


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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

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Arbouretum - Let It All In Music Album Reviews Arbouretum - Let It All In Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Tuesday, March 31, 2020 Rating:

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