Album Reviews

Arthur Beatrice – Working Out

(Polydor) UK release date: 24 February 2014

Arthur Beatrice - Working Out Arthur Beatrice (taking their name presumably from Golden Girls‘ Bea Arthur) were a member of that burbling cadre of anonymous musicians that rose a few years past, when it first started to become a fad. Some remnants have survived to this day: we’ve only just found out what Burial look like, and who can really say with any degree of certainty where Jai Paul is?

Arthur Beatrice are modern relics of way-back-when, when no one really knew who anyone was and people lived behind iron curtains online, occasionally sending out snippets of brilliance that seemed to appear via immaculate conception. We had smoggy disguises and alter-egos and shrouds of mystique. We had a surplus of enigmas.

These days, the London-based schoolyard chums are keener to bask in the limelight. Not that they’re clamouring for a spot on Britain’s Got Talent or polishing apples for Simon Cowell, but rather they’re putting themselves out there, being giddy, excited and rambling about their sounds. Once repetitively compared to The xx, they’ve evolved in their time together, fusing their disparate influences (R&B, indie-rock, classical, jazz) into a kind of disco-noir-cum-’80s pop. The past three years since they first detonated have been especially crucial in evolving their aural identity – many demos, blueprints, cocktail-napkin epiphanies, lightning-strike musings and rough cuts have had a good working over with the Brasso; they’ve taken their time, but they’ve transformed a once ramshackle hodgepodge of far-flung inspirations into sleek, unique, even sexy pop.

Midland is probably their biggest number to date. One half of the vocal talent, Ella Girardot, takes the helm here, with the other half – Orlando Sheppard (or is it Leopard?) – providing a sturdy counter-harmony underneath the flyaway melodies. Girardot oozes slick pop; it’s infectious, viral even, flicking from begravelled altos to the crisp clarion soprano. The chorus is a funktacular barrage of disco basslines, jazzy hi-hats, shuffling axes: they’ll command your hips like a Being John Malkovich-era John Cusack. However, beneath the innate danceflooriness of it all, it’s harrowing.

Perhaps it’s a subjective interpretation, but this song is dark – which the avante-garde dance video bolsters. “I’ll never grow as tall and fierce as me/ keep in mind I’m called unkind for doing what I feel” implies unwanted advances and the lack of power of the word ‘no’ to some. When the male harmonies are strongest, there seems to be the insinuation of male expectation: “Oh give it me all/ I am entitled it now/ and I’ve worked hard/ deserve it full well…” There are multiple indications that this song, while frequently grandiose and pop-poised, is really about sexual assault, the perceived inevitability of such assault and the disproportionate power/conniving manipulations of the male-r gender, as well as victim’s guilt. Maybe. Then again, maybe not.

It’s not just Midland that’s great – though it’s the standout cut – with other impressive tracks including the effervescent epic Wild Beasts-ish Councillor, funky ballad Carter, new wave romper Grand Union, jazztronica effort Singles, and simmering charmer Fairlawn. Percussion is always on point here, either thwomping a lifeblood beat or skittering like rats between gargantuan synths. Describing their style as anything more discriminate than the broadest of catch-alls, pop, feels futile – while there’s glimpses of their influences and other genres, it’s nothing that leans one way or another enough to warrant a label. Consequently, Arthur Beatrice have managed to craft a wonderfully unique sound for themselves. That itself is a mighty achievement in this day and age.

The album monorails along, a consistent stream of high-grade pop. It’s not particularly dynamically or timbre-ly varied, but the quality is such that it’s not an issue – it’s the kind of chilled-out indie music that can slink into the background and soundtrack daily life, or sit in your frontal lobes capturing the entirety of your attention. It’s had a whopping great gestation period, and while there are some moments that are perhaps veering towards the overcooked, it doesn’t disappoint. It’s not a perfect album – few are – but it’s definitely one that’ll have you ensnared. The next chapters in the life of Arthur Beatrice will be very interesting indeed.

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Arthur Beatrice – Working Out