Category: Arborea

(Re)Covered: Rising Stars
Arborea, Sam Billen, Mike and Ruthy

May 1st, 2010 — 05:51 am

The newest twigs and branches of the folk movement are still growing strong, if this month’s inbox is any indication – and that’s a very good thing, indeed. So today, for our regular weekend feature, we present news about a set of relatively new, relatively young artists that we’ve posted about before, making them ineligible for inclusion in our regular New Artists, Old Songs feature series…but perfect for a particularly focused edition of (Re)Covered.

A majestic set came in last week from Arborea, a Maine-based indiefolk duo who I’m dying to see live. We’ve pushed the echoey, delicate, almost nufolk sound of Shanti and Buck Curran in the midst of several features, most recently for their work as part of last year’s excellent Odetta tribute from Wears The Trousers, but never truly written about their work alone. But these stunning new recordings force my hand: “spooky” and “shimmering”, inviting further comparison with the work of Vashti Bunyan, Karen Dalton, Sandy Denny, Devandra Banhardt, and Sam Amidon, and with the birdsong tones and woodsy atmosphere of their rural origin.

Today’s trifecta, sent along on the tailwinds of their most recent release House of Sticks, aptly represents the fine balance between tradition and experimental delicacy which we’ve come to expect of Arborea. The two whole tracks – a Tim Buckley cover recorded at SXSW which will appear on their next studio recording, and a video from a February house concert in France which mixes an Arborea original with familiar Led Zeppelin and Dylan tunes – maintain the etherial tones of their studio sound, demonstrating once again that the raw, organic delicacy of their early work is neither fluke nor parlor trick.

There’s also a frustratingly partial halftrack sample from We Are All One, In The Sun, an upcoming tribute to American Primitive artist Robbie Basho, curated by Buck and featuring tracks from Meg Baird, Helen Espvall, and others, which – despite containing Basho-influenced originals as well as several covers – nonetheless joins an ongoing dead heat for the top spot in my list of this year’s tributes and compilations. And, as a bonus, I’ve included both of the Arborea tracks we’ve posted here before. Listen, and be transported.

  • Arborea: Phantasmagoria In Two (orig. Tim Buckley)

    (unreleased, 2009)

Bonus Tracks:

Way on the other end of the sound spectrum, Kansas singer-songwriter Sam Billen – whose “achingly fragile” version of Auld Lang Syne we posted at the New Year – has recently added two more tracks to REMOVERs, an ongoing covers and remixes project “of songs that influence [his] music” which he’s been producing in his home studio in and among the various stresses and joys of new fatherhood, and I couldn’t be more thrilled.

Trusting any artist’s listed influences can be a challenge in the catch-’em-all world of MySpace and promotional soundalike set-ups; it’s hard enough to know what to make of artists who cite folk, rock, and techno all at once, let alone those who, like Sam, include Todd Rundgren and The Yellow Magic Orchestra on their list, and yet come out with sparse, gentle, well-curated folk albums for the holidays. But whether you find yourself familiar with the modern indie alt-rock namedropping or just shake your head at the names listed for the coming project, there’s something both unifying and unified about this set, and it’s not just how Billen makes these songs sound right in his own voice and modality.

As you might expect from the premise, much of the sound on this album bleeds past the boundaries of electrofolk into a kind of gentle-beat DJ fare, hypnotic and chilled. But Billen’s relatively sparse treatment on tracks such as The Republic Tigers’ Made Concrete and his fuzzed-out remix of Capybara’s The Wimp come off perfectly balanced between the post-folk work of Sufjan Stevens and the electroindie moodmusic of The Postal Service. And sure enough, in apt acknowledgement of those influences, the series – which to date contains six tracks, all available for stream and download perfectly gratis via The Record Machine – includes covers of both artists. His take on Sufjan is a personal favorite, a deliciously etherial boundary-crossing dreamscape built from hoarse harmonies, bells, banjo, and just the right touch of electronic interference. Check it out, and don’t forget to pick up his previous albums, too – both the all-acoustic Tokyo Sessions EP and his most recent full-length Headphones and Cellphones, while vastly different, come highly recommended.

Bonus Track:

In other news: Folk Rock has always been a bit tricky to define on this side of the Atlantic Ocean; outside of the traditional grounding of the British Isles, most modern electrified music with a solid beat comes in categorized as just-plain-rock of one sort or another, and sure enough, hearing Mike and Ruthy‘s 2008 original I’m Going To Get My Baby Out Of Jail on this morning’s radio was more like a fresh blast from some delicious combination of the Velvet Underground and Cowboy Junkies than anything – and a far cry from the sometimes delicate, sometimes rootsy acoustic folk sound which has previously characterized the bulk of their work as a duo, as solo artists, and as members of The Mammals.

Which reminded me that Mike and Ruthy, who we first featured within a substantive post on Ruth’s work in various guises, are currently raising funds via Kickstarter to release their newest and upcoming album Million To One – which, judging from the album cover, the Kickstarter video, and the album description on their webpage, is bound to continue their move towards a broad redefinition of the American folk rock sound. Nothing new to post, yet – the album is recorded, but no tracks have been released – but with the recent decision to close our archives, it’s a good time to repost some older favorites from the married ex-Mammals, in the hopes that it will help spur donations to the cause…all of which come with the usual goodies, rewards, and extras, as good micro-finance models should.

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