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Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Arcs: Yours, Dreamily

THE ARCS: YOURS, DREAMILY (2015)

1) Once We Begin (Intro); 2) Outta My Mind; 3) Put A Flower In Your Pocket; 4) Pistol Made Of Bones; 5) Every­thing You Do (You Do For You); 6) Stay In My Corner; 7) Cold Companion; 8) The Arc; 9) Nature's Child; 10) Velvet Ditch; 11) Chains Of Love; 12) Come & Go; 13) Rosie (Ooh La La); 14) Searching The Blue.

Although «The Arcs» were assembled as a side project of Danny Auerbach, comparison of their first (and so far, only) album with the latest production of The Black Keys shows that Danny probably just wanted to take a break from Carney — because Yours, Dreamily is easily seen as a next logical step in Auerbach's evolution from grizzly blues-rocker into a moody popster, sort of like a one-man Fleetwood Mac in all of its multiple consecutive incarnations (at least he does not have a spare Christine McVie-type personality). Assisting him in this evolution are: keyboard and horn player Leon Michels (who also plays sax in his own band, El Michels Affair), drummer and general multi-instrumentalist Richard Swift (who is also a member of The Shins), and, to a lesser extent, drummer Homer Steinweiss and bassist Nick Movshon, who used to play for the late Amy Winehouse, among others. They all share songwriting credits with Auerbach — particularly Leon Michels — but it is very perfectly clear that this is essentially Danny's project from top to bottom, as his personal unshaved aura is all over the place.

And there's nothing wrong with that, either: Yours, Dreamily is an excellent album, full to the brim (a very reasonable 45-minute long brim) with clever, tasteful, and almost instantly memo­rable «blues-pop» songs that are about as worthy a continuation of the Brothers / El Camino / Turn Blue tradition as could be. The sentiments throughout are generally the same — brooding, soulful, a little melancholic, maybe even a tad misanthropic, reflecting an artistic depression that is quiet, but subtly deep enough to make you want to kill yourself if you spend too much time digging: ʽEverything You Do (You Do For You)ʼ, a mean mean reversal of the crappy message of the Bryan Adams song, could be understood as a personal complaint about an egoistic lover, or it could be just as easily interpreted as a bash of the general reason why everything goes wrong in this world of ours. Well, probably not — most of the songs here are directly woman-related — but the music has a consistent «world-weary» makeover that will be of great use to you whenever you feel pissed at either your partner, or The System, or your own unenviable personal role in the consequences of the Big Bang.

The songs are generally blues- or jazz-based, but always with catchy vocal hooks, most of which are traditionally lodged in the song title: as a concluding chorus line of each depressed verse, the line "everything you do, you do for you" falls with a heavy falsetto thud like a killer stone (and the percussion is produced like a series of ominous faraway thumps to emphasize the effect), and so does the concluding line of ʽPistol Made Of Bonesʼ, a rather transparent metaphor for the past coming to haunt the protagonist. On the other hand, ʽStay In My Cornerʼ, almost completely sung in falsetto and owing its existence to Sam Cooke, Ben E. King, Al Green, or any other master of the American R&B tradition, has the hook dutifully delivered like a tender plea, because, well, somebody is gotta be there for the protagonist to shield him from all these dark thoughts, and to make his case even stronger, the protagonist is also going to play a loud, slightly distorted, heart-breaking slide guitar solo for that special somebody.

Although the album was not produced by Danger Mouse (Auerbach and Michels took care of production themselves), his legacy is noticeable — there's echo all over the place, a wide variety of guitar effects (such as the «burping» tone on ʽThe Arcʼ, whose riff, by the way, bears an iffy resemblance to ʽMoney For Nothingʼ), different percussion on every track, ranging from drum machines to the above-mentioned «distant thumping» on ʽEverything You Doʼ, and other little production tricks that efficiently modernize the music while keeping its melodic backbone firmly in the past. The most questionable production decision is probably on ʽCome & Goʼ, essentially a modern-day cabaret number loaded with love-making moans, a song that you might find a little problematic to play in the presence of your parents (depends on the parents, of course) — certain­ly, the hookline "the more he comes, the more he goes" will take on quite a distinctive meaning next to this bit of softporn soundtrack. But then, we're all grown up here, and this is an inventive addition to the loungy-smoky atmosphere of the track.

If there is one single flaw to Yours, Dreamily, it is that no single track stands out above the others — not only is the same mood retained throughout, but it also constantly stays at the same level of room temperature. Auerbach never lets that depression carry him away to madness or imaginary suicide, nor does he allow the fervor of his prayers for delivery to carry him away into the stratosphere. Perhaps he is right, and perhaps he is simply being honest with us, expressing his emotionality exactly in the way that it runs through him, without artificially revving himself up or down — the lamentable consequence of this being that the album, while totally lovable upon first listens, will probably not hold up too long in your head.

Then again, was it really meant to? As a mere «detour» from the Black Keys, a side venture that will neither get a lot of publicity nor a lot of critical attention, Yours, Dreamily exceeds all possible expectations anyway, and I don't think we could or should be asking for more. When they finally bring it down with the soothing piano balladeering of ʽSearching The Blueʼ, a dreamy, moving tune with a bit of the old inquisitive Lennonesque spirit, we finally get the main question of the album — "Is anything we do / Ever gonna last? / Couldn't I have a clue, / Searching the blue?" Well, I'm not sure if Yours, Dreamily is going to last, what with all of its humble tone and un-flashy appearance, but at least it is a record that should be taken seriously by its contem­poraries — and, once again, confirms my opinion of Auerbach as one of the leading artists of his generation, even if that may not be meaning all that much in the 2010s. Thumbs up.

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