Arizona: Welcome Back Dear Children

[12 August 2007]

By Dan Raper

Why are we only reviewing this album now, when it was released almost a year ago? Put it down to oversight and the fact that the band now has hired publicists. Nobody took much notice of New York-based Arizona when they released their debut. Now that the band has released a more adventurous second EP, Fameseeker and the Mono, and their profile has increased somewhat, there’s an understandable curiosity about where they came from.

If you’re a regular reader of music blogs, the songs on Welcome Back Dear Children have a certain familiarity. “Thru the Soot”, “Splintering”, and “Some Kind of Chill” in particular have been floating around for a while. This is compounded by all the songs’ soft-focus informality. There’s more folk in Arizona’s folk-pop than psych’s characteristic swirl. The good news is there’s more to Welcome Back Dear Children than those well-known songs.

I played “Some Kind of Chill” for some friends the other day, and one asked, “What’s this music? It’s weird”. At first I was a little taken aback. The song is so sweet it should be a model of how to write a pop song, but I suppose there is an element of ‘weirdness’ in most of Arizona’s tunes. But these psych elements, bending notes at end / beginning, layered vocal harmonies, extended song structures that wander off into obscurity without any promise of return, seen in moments like the freakout section in the middle of “Stay With Who You Know”, or the complex, pattering rhythm of “Somersby”, are seamlessly incorporated into the generally more low-key fabric of the songs. In fact, in the more straight-forward songs, the psych influence doesn’t sit as comfortably for the band: on “Waking Up”, the layered, Simon & Garfunkel-style harmonies and swung guitar figure recall ‘60s psych bands like Food, but fail to leave a strong impact.

Still, there are plenty of memorable tunes on the album. From the soft beauty of “Some Kind of Chill” (with its classic 8-7-6-5 bassline) to the more aggressive slow-build of “Splintering” (the angular cello line at the beginning’s particularly effective), Arizona demonstrates over and again that even at this early stage they know how to construct solid pop songs. “Diventa Blu” is album’s most gentle: over soft-pattering, tapped percussion, and held organ notes the song has a sparkling life. Ben Wigler’s voice, as on Fameseeker, has the lilting fragility of a Jeff Buckley or, sometimes, a Chris Martin.

Welcome Back Dear Children, though it’s a little past its original release date, is certainly a Slipped Disc, worth going back to, certainly. The soft, lilting songs are not the height of innovation, but by the same token the timelessness gives a certain familiar comfort. And these songs are pulled of with such gentle confidence it’s difficult not to be impressed.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/arizona-welcome-back-dear-children/