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neumu
Wednesday, October 22, 2014 
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+ Calexico - Garden Ruin (Review #1)
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+ The Glass Family - Sleep Inside This Wheel
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artist
Joseph Arthur
recording
Our Shadows Will Remain
Vector
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Joseph Arthur's is a strange case in the canon of rock criticism. It's odd when an artist receives overenthusiastic praise for a debut album that really isn't that good. Stranger still when the artist releases follow-ups that far exceed the merits of the debut and are met with little attention — critical or otherwise. Typically, someone like Arthur gets the ball rolling in a big commercial way pretty quick. On his first full-length he had backing vocals from his musical forebear Peter Gabriel and obvious inspiration Brian Eno. He also had the support of high-profile media such as Entertainment Weekly. He supposedly blazed a trail on the world-music (a wretched signifier) circuit after his debut, Big City Secrets, was released on Gabriel's Real World label in 1997. And he's a rather attractive dude with a dour charm. To no avail; to this day he remains a cult favorite.

Arthur is an angsty alterna-folk rocker with a ragged voice, cleverly opaque lyrics and semi-avant-garde production. After having two albums released on major labels, Arthur returns to the indie fold with the most cohesive work of his career, Our Shadows Will Remain.

Initially recognized for the bizarre instrumentation and atmospheric production he utilizes on his records (birimbau solo, anyone?), Arthur appears to have lost his penchant for droning subtext and has hunkered down on the songwriting here. Clocking in at a crisp 45 minutes, the album has a poppy flair on songs like "Puppets" and "Even Tho." Employing an upbeat musical sensibility not often seen on previous releases, Arthur expands his chunk-of-coal vocals a bit for these more conventional versions. In a time-honored move, he juxtaposes peppier production with bleak, desolate lyrics about ditching society and loved ones. Isolationism isn't new territory for Arthur but he's reaching a vital peak on Shadows.

"Wasted" grooves over a traditional hip-hop loop that accentuates the song's swoony, bedraggled sadness. The chorus moans, "Wasted, I need to find a place to cry." Familiar territory. "Devil's Broom" sports a Westerbergian rasp with a shimmering chorus that glides over its jangle-pop core. "Echo Park" is a sober slice of strings and warm sighing. It's the album's tidiest beauty. There are all sorts of quiet moments of choral bliss on Arthur's fourth release. And thanks to a beat-driven aesthetic previously unexplored, the once-airy songs now have some weight behind them.

Sturdier production and straightforward songwriting make a strong backbone for someone once lauded for his mysticism. It's refreshing to hear a more clear-eyed vision from Joe Arthur. Of course, that doesn't mean he's much happier. In fact, he sounds downright distraught. Check out the first verse of the heel-digging lament "I Am": "You live in a darkness/ Made out of your fear/ Looking to the future/ Never are you here." Not exactly "Shiny Happy People," but I'll take it over murky world production and corn horn breakdowns any day.
 
 


by Sean Fennessey




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