A multi-layered sonic landscape
Arbouretum - Live At Cargo, London

It’s quite a crowd tonight. You have your pick of movers and shakers – from indie kids to older country types, from leather clad rockers to the suited and booted, dapper dans to gothy vamps. There’s an array of beards, from outrageously long to odd double conical. There’s even a few clean shaven faces. Mainly the women. And there’s no telling who’s on tonight from the style in evidence. What the crowd is about to witness is not revealed by superficial means at any length. What is found later is that this is, as it turns out, indicative of Arbouretum’s sound, and therefore, their appeal.

The band’s sound takes the audience on a tour of the lush interiors of Neil Young’s home in Laurel Canyon, where there’s a different record from his collection playing in each room. From the first song, ‘When Delivery Comes’, a warm melodic number with American country tinged vocals, it’s an impressive introduction to their alt folk/psyche prog thang. Combined with their physical presence you’re expecting a regulation tour of grooves and moves from a Baltimore band who’ve clearly visited Portland, Oregon, sat amongst the trees, smoked the grass, and then digested the collected works of CS&N and Cream.

But that assumption is eradicated – removed completely, never to return, as the band continue their tour of Mr Young’s sonic mansion, each door opening onto another multiple layered sonic landscape that eventually becomes their own refuge of sound.

Into their third song, ‘Waxing Crescents’ and the crowd is accosted with male Grace Slick vocals – so vicious! – and heart throbbing guitar and drums. Then the light show kicks in. A venue known primarily for club nights delivers a visual bombardment that proves strangely impressive. ‘Song Of The Nile’ follows with a dark brooding swagger of guttural bass, vibrating and repeating the same note over and over and over until you can feel the hum scraping against your teeth. The drone, mixed with psyche stabbings of the keys and explosions of effects is reminiscent of the roots of an early Spiritualized track.

The track ‘St. Anthony’s Fire’ is a feature as it’s on their split LP ‘Aureola’ with Hush Arbors and displays various textures; from intimate, blissed out, lingering, drunken vocals to howls from the singer, the guitar, and the rest of the band - they all wail with shamanic fortitude.

When ‘White Bird’ kicks in the audience’s reaction is rapturous applause. No wonder as the fuzzy guitar and distortion is infectious. The drums rival those of The Creatures or Levon Helm’s more unhinged moments. The combination of the keys, drums and vocals clambering to the heavy heights evokes the psych rock of the Roundhouse in the late ‘60s. I’m guessing.

From the verdant folk to the freak-out, Arbouretum integrate musical styles and improvisation to produce an atypical sound and modern performance that at times could feature on both a Sonic Cathedral compilation and a more obscure compendium of classic ‘70s Rock. It’s all resplendent and all their own.

Words by Libby Moné
Photo by Elinor Jones

Click here for a photo gallery of the gig.

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