Until recently, the term Prog has been treated with a considerable level of disdain. Despite the notion that Punk killed it and consigned it to the bin marked “dinosaurs” (it didn’t) Prog has been bubbling away in the background quite nicely. Whether the rise of the bearded gentleman is directly related to increased song length in popular music is unclear, but of late there certainly seems to be a swing back towards the Prog-ethos of the late ’70s which claimed that longer was most certainly better. Even drums solos have been making a comeback recently.
With Coming Out Of The Fog, Arbouretum have started to turn away from the extended jams and apparently endless workouts that populated their earlier work. There’s nothing here that stretches beyond the seven-minute mark, but those that revelled in the band’s lengthier work should not be worried – those beards can remain stroked for a little longer (or chins, if a beard isn’t your thing).
Certainly things are a little more concise, tidier, and direct this time around, but this is a band that isn’t slow to lay down an effective hypnotic groove. Fall into that groove, and these songs are entirely immersive and seem to distort time. Opener The Long Night is a perfect example of Arbouretum making time appear to stretch out almost endlessly despite being just a snatch under the four minute mark. The key to this is the loping central riff that drives the song and defines Dave Heumann’s vocal lines. Its pull is so magnetic that everything is drawn towards it, seemingly powerless to resist its grinding charms. Not that it starts out as a relentless rifferama, that takes time to build. It begins life as a folk song that undoubtedly draws on English influences, and in particular Richard Thompson, before slowly heading into rockier, dusty territory.
As well as the English folk influence, there’s an undeniable hint of Desert Rock in the low slung, lazy guitars. Second track Renouncer or World Split Open for example possess chugging riffing that could quite happily sit on the later Queens Of The Stone Age Desert Session albums. This continues into the relentless grind of The Promise. Heumann’s vocals initially hold sway as they flirt and mimic his lead guitar work, soaring and diving wonderfully, but before long his guitar takes over and heads towards the cosmos. Once again Arbouretum begin to mess with perceptions of reality and the song seems to expand time itself.
After such a heady trip, its down to the straightforward, low-key country ballad of Oceans Don’t Sing to bring everything into sharp focus. Here, the stripped back guitars and wail of the pedal steel compliment Heumann’s emotional outpouring perfectly. Later, as it heads into Country Rock territory similar to that occupied by Band Of Horses, it loses some of its emotional weight, but is nonetheless remarkably effective. This Americana influence is also present on the title track, which ambles from the fog of the instrumental Easter Island like an easy riding cowboy emerging from a dust cloud. Laid back, but evidently damaged (once again Heumann’s delicate vocal delivery just drips with a clear sense of hurt) it’s a wonderfully beautiful end to the album.
Admittedly, there are times on Coming Out Of The Fog when Arbouretum seem to be a little too self indulgent and one paced, but each of these songs has a hook that digs deep and refuses to let go.