Music

Lawrence Arabia: Chant Darling

This is the most beautiful album I’m probably going to hear this year.


Lawrence Arabia

Chant Darling

Label: Bella Union
US Release Date: 2010-03-09
UK Release Date: 2010-01-04
Amazon
iTunes

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.

Each of its ten songs is a pithy pop bite that wafts like your favourite perfume/cologne, sized for an assorted gift-box. Only once you’ve taken to one, you want to acquire the whole set. However, unlike that woozy and delicate cult band currently on everyone’s lips, Beach House, Chant Master won’t easily be swept away. That would be a gross tragedy if it were, for the album was recorded in at least seven places spanning three countries (Sweden, Britain and New Zealand), with Milne employing more collaborators than he would care to if this was still 2006 and he was working on his first solo album (which, incidentally, didn’t make much of a splash outside of New Zealand). In an interview with Dan Watt of Beat, Milne said that it took a lot of restraint on his part to control only “70%” of the album’s production, but his "letting go" certainly proved fruitful, as his spindly, sometimes excessively twee songwriting of past albums were fleshed out with the texture they needed.

It’s hard not to get hooked from the moment Milne puts his Lennon guise on while undressing his romantic vulnerabilities on “Look Like a Fool”. The word “love” seeps in as the spectral harmony from the Beatles’ “Because” and merges with doses of Fleetwood Mac in the guitar part, and a charming string and piano instrumental bridge, to form a tapestry that’s simultaneously as technicolour-sublime as the Zombies circa Odyssey and Oracle yet close enough to home thanks to Milne’s all-too-human vocal delivery. The only gripe I have is toward the end when the strings go haywire. Is this not a contrived way to simulate the tape loop effects so beloved by the Beatles? This notwithstanding, “Look Like a Fool” is one testament of Milne’s songwriting credentials in the great baroque pop tradition; it never takes the most obvious turns of melody and yet it never sounds unduly challenging.

The song forms a continuum with the next two: the first being the short-and-sweet “The Desirables”, which is one part Simon and Garfunkel and two parts Fab Four and ought to be performed in an echoing chamber for maximum mind-blowing effect. The other is hit-in-the-wings “Apple Pie Bed”, the first item on Chant Darling with a spring in its step thanks to its Motown bassline, jangling guitar hook and singalong chorus.

If there are any eyebrow-raising moments on the album, they’re to be found on “Auckland CBD” and the single “The Beautiful Young Crew”. The former takes up the raised consciousness of the '60s for sounds that aren’t Anglo-American in origin with something that could have dropped off Vampire Weekend’s wagon. It is almost comical that Milne’s ukulele-induced exoticism should rear itself in “Auckland CBD”, a pedestrian tale of Saturday night lust. Such dry wit, seen also on the Zombies-esque album closer “Dream Teacher”, gives Lawrence Arabia its deserved indie darling status and bears a faint resemblance to something Flight of the Conchords would do. As if this juxtaposition wasn’t enough to pique your appetite, at the song’s halfway mark, the plunky ukulele, Afro-polyrhythms, trumpet chirps and Milne’s lo-fi vocals segue into a woolgathering moment like someone has just seen the light. Only instead of choral chants of “Hallalujah” providing the accompaniment, we have a string arrangement that could have been a section out of the B-side of the theme from Soul Train. It’s one of those delightfully curious moments that come and go with nary a ripple.

“The Beautiful Young Crew”, memorable as it is with its seventies’ documentary-style video of Milne acting as a prime ministerial candidate, bears another noteworthy juxtaposition. A "hillbilly" accompaniment rollicks along as Milne plays arch voyeur and deadpans: “And they love each other / And they hate each other / They’re afraid of each other / Because they want to screw each other”. Apparently, according to Watt’s interview, this was Milne getting fed up with watching his neighbours in achingly hip London area Shoreditch, where he was lucky enough to stay during the recording of Chant Darling. The folksiness of the song is eventually propelled by a massive hand-clapping singalong, and like “Auckland CBD”, there is a random yet seamlessly-woven instrumental hook, this time featuring a trumpet. As you can guess, the song’s hard to pin down, but its charismatically quaint manner makes it a worthy rather than frustrating listen.

Even though this album is clearly a winner with this listener, there is one wrinkle that could do with some ironing out. “The Crew of the Commodore” is needlessly shoe-gazey soporific, making its melodic adventures a drag on the ear rather than a joy. In fact, this is the kind of thing one would expect of Beach House.

The brilliance of Chant Darling is that while it peddles a brand of indie pop that comes off chewed over and spat out a million times over, there is nothing tiring about it. That’s because it’s neither precious nor gimmicky nor remotely self-conscious. And it’s just so beautiful!

9
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Books

Political Cartoonist Art Young Was an Aficionado of all Things Infernal

Fantagraphics' new edition of Inferno takes Art Young's original Depression-era critique to the Trump Whitehouse -- and then drags it all to Hell.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

OK Go's Emotional New Ballad, "All Together Now", Inspired by Singer's Bout with COVID-19

Damian Kulash, lead singer for OK Go discusses his recent bout with COVID-19, how it impacted his family, and the band's latest pop delight, "All Together Now", as part of our Love in the Time of Coronavirus series.

Books

The Rules Don't Apply to These Nonconformist Novelists

Ian Haydn Smith's succinct biographies in Cult Writers: 50 Nonconformist Novelists You Need to Know entice even seasoned bibliophiles.

Music

Siren Songs' Merideth Kaye Clark and Jenn Grinels Debut As a Folk Duo (album stream + interview)

Best friends and longtime musical collaborators Merideth Kaye Clark and Jenn Grinels team up as Siren Songs for the uplifting folk of their eponymous LP.

Music

Buzzcocks' 1993 Comeback 'Trade Test Transmissions' Showed Punk's Great Survivors' Consistency

PopMatters' appraisal of Buzzcocks continues with the band's proper comeback LP, Trade Test Transmissions, now reissued on Cherry Red Records' new box-set, Sell You Everything.

Music

Archie Shepp, Raw Poetic, and Damu the Fudgemunk Enlighten and Enliven with 'Ocean Bridges'

Ocean Bridges is proof that genre crossovers can sound organic, and that the term "crossover" doesn't have to come loaded with gimmicky connotations. Maybe we're headed for a world in which genres are so fluid that the term is dropped altogether from the cultural lexicon.

Books

Claude McKay's 'Romance in Marseille' Is Ahead of Its Time

Claude McKay's Romance in Marseille -- only recently published -- pushes boundaries on sexuality, disability, identity -- all in gorgeous poetic prose.

Music

Christine Ott Brings the Ondes Martenot to New Heights with the Mesmerizing 'Chimères'

France's Christine Ott, known for her work as an orchestral musician and film composer, has created a unique new solo album, Chimères, that spotlights an obscure instrument.

Music

Man Alive! Is a Continued Display of the Grimy-Yet-Refined Magnetism of King Krule

Following The OOZ and its accolades, King Krule crafts a similarly hazy gem with Man Alive! that digs into his distinct aesthetic rather than forges new ground.

Books

The Kinks and Their Bad-Mannered English Decency

Mark Doyles biography of the Kinks might complement a seminar in British culture. Its tone and research prove its intent to articulate social critique through music for the masses.

Music

ONO Confronts American Racial Oppression with the Incendiary 'Red Summer'

Decades after their initial formation, legendary experimentalists ONO have made an album that's topical, vital, uncomfortable, and cathartic. Red Summer is an essential documentation of the ugliness and oppression of the United States.

Film

Silent Women Filmmakers No Longer So Silent: Alice Guy Blaché and Julia Crawford Ivers

The works of silent filmmakers Alice Guy Blaché and Julia Crawford Ivers were at risk of being forever lost. Kino Lorber offers their works on Blu-Ray. Three cheers for film historians and film restoration.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.