CD Review: Arbouretum “The Gathering”

Dishonesty isn’t laudable, but it’s certainly understandable. We’re confronted with the prospect of facing wave upon wave of pitiless appraisal if we stand firm by our conception and subsequent projection of self, so we hide behind walls and don knavish hats to ensconce a comfortable rift between who we are and who we feel we ought to be. Facades suddenly aren’t so vile.

Folk-rockers Arbouretum check both boxes on their follow-up to 2009?s Song Of The Pearl, maintaining the occult Crazy-Horse-by-way-of-Southern-Gothic tropes but further shearing their two camps — one party is drug-addled while the other is jarringly lucid. The hazy guitars consume much of our attention early on, as heard on ‘The White Bird’ and ‘Destroying To Save’, which are oppressed by the fog, snuffing out their expressive ambit. Dave Heumann’s vocals appear to be filtering in from behind thickets, this distance never permitting him to grab the reins and direct their course, instead succumbing to a muddy plod.

While the band’s polished cover of ‘The Highwayman’ stays true to the narrative-oriented, decade-spanning amble of Jimmy Webb’s original, it verges on effete. Fellow poised cuts ‘When Deliver Comes’ and ‘The Empty Shell’  fare much better, the former a solemn quasi-miner’s-chant brimming with bleached gravitas whereas the latter bottles Arbouretum at its most riveting, lifting its brume and bursting forth in rollicking splendor.

Elsewhere, ‘Waxing Crescents’  demonstrates a fluidity to the outfit’s chug-happy guitars, the fuzz moving and mutating alongside buried pipes, engendering quite a refreshing — albeit logy — psychedelic gallop into an ever-shifting rock ‘n’ roll ravine. Closer ‘Song Of The Nile’, however, sees the Baltimore act devoting 8 minutes to bog-standard guitar sashays and only about 3 to its boiling point, laying in the weeds once more, almost as though it’s only willing to rear its true colors after lulling us into a pedestrian stupor.

Arbouretum doesn’t quite dive in heart and soul on its latest foray, frequently deferring to middling rumpus in order to screen its meek voice. As a result, its songs strike as aloof half the time, and their detachment comes awfully close to mirroring ours.

Rating: 5.8 / 10