To call Arbouretum’s seventh studio album Let It All In eclectic is not far wide of the mark. 2013’s Coming Out Of The Fog was probably worthy of the description too, and the band in general are somewhat of an enigma. They somehow incorporate elements of folk-rock, psychedelia, Americana, stoner rock and country rock into one huge melting pot to produce something occasionally resembling a sound that can be traced back to specific roots, yet other times throw out music that mashes all the ingredients into something unique and mysterious; new, even.
Maybe that’s why the band have never quite reached many people’s consciousness, flitting between so many styles without settling on one, never quite allowing themselves to be pigeonholed in the process. Whilst that may have its benefits, it’s likely to form less of a core following than other bands determined to nail down a specific style.
Band leader Dave Heumann has been pretty much at the helm for 15 years now, so it’s not like there has been an influx of personnel changes. Vocally, there’s a likeness in his tone that recalls Neil Young, like on folky opener How Deep It Goes. It’s all very pleasant before guitars emit a kind of prog rock, early Mike Oldfield vibe, but it’s a solid start. Closer High Water Song then goes on to sound like Young singing with a modern version of Bob Dylan’s old sidekicks The Band for a jaunty piano-led bouncy cut.
Buffeted By Wind, another light-folk number plus electric guitar, represents perhaps the most common presence on the album despite opening bars eerily recalling The Stone Roses’ This Is The One, chiming guitars quickly disappearing before Heumann gets a little Bryan Ferry on us. But it really does delve into all kinds of styles elsewhere.
Their past has often flirted with a strange medieval/mythical style – evident on A Prism In Reverse – and slow moving prog rock like Wishbone Ash, incorporating some wildly impressive electric guitar soloing – see Headwaters II for the evidence. A sludgy, bluesy guitar sound is another trait – stoner rock with a light touch – as the plodding, psychedelic No Sanctuary Blues will support.
But the title track is something else. Not so much head and shoulders above the rest, it’s like Mount Everest sitting alongside the South Downs. At 11 minutes, it had to be pretty special and it most certainly is. Utterly stunning, this has more in common with their label mates Wooden Shjips than anything else as distorted vocals, a heavier touch and fantastic guitar soloing set to a stoner rock, propulsive motorik beat drive the track into a druggy haze you could get lost in. Brilliant stuff.
Where this leaves Arbouretum is another mystery, though. They churn out electric-folk-rock as if it’s second nature, but smacking you across the chops with something as spellbindingly superb as the title track takes them to another level – nay, planet – entirely. Oh for them to settle on this one style and keep us all snuggly safe in troublesome times forever – you wouldn’t need anything else. Yet while as a whole it’s disjointed, and the variation could hinder its success, Arbouretum have undoubtedly released another good album.