For Seattle twosome Grant Olsen and Sonya Westcott, childhood memories appear sufficiently sacred to be revisited. Hence, sporting their respective nicknames as infants, Arthur & Yu have produced a debut that revels in a frequently downbeat nostalgia, with a lullaby-esque theme running throughout. At times repetitive, but always forceful and heartfelt, In Camera contains a story that everyone can relate to, and is therefore a work that is sure to be remembered.
On first impression, this being the opening track Absurd Heroes Manifestos, the jangling guitar and melancholy vocal suggests a sound somewhere between The Decemberists and Sparklehorse. With hints of Jethro Tull provided by the flute and interesting interplay between male and female vocal, a density to the song writing is quickly established and is only escalated as the LP continues. What also becomes paramount is the childhood influence of the lyrics, with Westcott’s murmuring “Apologies to mum and papa, if we haven’t gone and done just what you’d like” sticking out in particular.
The seemingly scaled-down simplicity of the songs is perhaps indicative of a band trying to lull the listener into an escapist nostalgia, and with the bluesy Afterglow, nonsense lines such as “broken glass in the sand, rabbit’s food in the hand” suddenly appear a vivid window into a youthful idealism. This sense is only further enforced by the repetitive formation that Olsen and Westcott maintain, creating a hypnotic effect that keeps your own thoughts about playing in the sand firmly in your mind.
It is this space for one’s own thoughts that Arthur & Yu seem to have concentrated on, as their own lyrics are frequently submerged in the rich instrumental backdrop of their numbers. With the exception of 1000 Words, where Olsen’s soaring vocal begins to sound uncannily like Rufus Wainwright, both voices are kept rather breathy and sedated. The parts that latch onto your consciousness, as shown with There Are Too Many Birds, come in the form of gently moaning guitar or the burst of a kettle drum.
Unfortunately, such moments are rather brief, as the repetitive drone of formulaic guitar and ensnaring melody takes over for much of the album’s length. This has undeniably pleasant outcomes, such as the wonderfully melancholy Lion’s Mouth, but after having gone so long without a drum beat or a change of pace, the listener may be in danger of becoming lost in their own thoughts, and forgetting about the music altogether.
Brief respite comes in the form of The Ghost of Old Bull Lee which kicks off with clicking percussion and even a bit of whistling, but the enormous restraint of these songwriters wins out and things come to an abrupt halt before what sounds like a brilliant indie-dance number can fully take flight. We then return to the central theme of drifting away into nothingness, and the gripping melodies of Black Bear ensure that things are left on the kind of soft, nostalgic sensations you might commonly associate with watching an old home video. A piece of lovely escapism, In Camera surely is, an honest if unchallenging work that, given time, is sure to find its place into your hearts.