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Rites of Uncovering

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Album Review

It's easier to divine a band's musical aesthetic when their press packet opens with a quote from the death scene in novelist Paul Bowles' masterpiece The Sheltering Sky. Arbouretum's Rites of Uncovering closely echoes that novel's chief conceit — transcending comfortable beliefs for the unknowable mysteries of the universe — by stripping away traditional song structure and linear progression for more natural forms. Adhering to that blueprint, Arbouretum's songs are visceral and elemental, a loose-feeling mix of blues, folk, tribal beats, stoner rock and jam-based influences that belies the solid songwriting and musicianship at its core.

Arbouretum is the brainchild of David Heumann, who has played with Papa M and Cass McCombs, as well as brothers Paul Oldham (in Anomoanon), and Will Oldham (with Bonnie "Prince" Billy). The latter's influence is especially tangible in Heumann's voice and phrasing, though he tends to avoid the first-person confessional nature of Will Oldham's narratives. Still, the likeness can be a bit disconcerting at first. The sludgy, funereal-paced album opener, "Signposts & Instruments," sounds like Palace run through Black Sabbath's amplifiers, as does the nearly nine-minute "Pale Rider Blues." But it's the Brit folk-sounding songs "Tonight's a Jewel" and "Mohammed's Hex & Bounty" (based on a story by Bowles' companion Mohammed Mrabet) that most closely resemble Bonnie "Prince" Billy's recent records — that is if he had Richard Thompson playing lead guitar.

While the comparisons may be inevitable, it's not fair to judge Arbouretum's music by that lone yardstick. Heumann's macro-lyrics are the yin to Will Oldham's micro-lyrical yang, and there's a much broader range of styles at play on Rites of Uncovering. There's the stoner rock vibe that informs the 11-minute guitar workout "The Rise,"which begins with a gospel call-and-response before morphing into a jam that wouldn't be out of place on Jimi Hendrix's Band of Gypsys record. "Ghosts of Here & There" has a distinct early Grateful Dead feel, with Heumann and Walker David Teret trading clarion-toned guitar lines worthy of Jerry Garcia. The eight-minute-long "Sleep of Shiloam" also has some of the Dead in it, though it could also be a Built to Spill epic done in slow motion. Regardless of the style, most of these contemplative, minor-key songs include free-form bridges and/or outros that also highlight the interplay between bassist Corey Allendar (Cass McCombs), and drummers Mitchell Feldstein (Lungfish) or Dave Bergander (Love Life and the Celebration).

Maybe the best way to sum up Arbouretum's impressive Thrill Jockey debut is to return to the Bowles quote cited by the band: "There was the certitude of an infinite sadness at the core of his consciousness, but the sadness was reassuring, because it alone was familiar. He needed no further consolation."

Biography

Formed: 2002 in Baltimore, MD

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '00s, '10s

Dave Heumann, a musician with something of a rustic, poetic bent who backed up musicians like Bonnie "Prince" Billy and Cass McCombs, started Arbouretum in the early 2000s. The band was comprised of Heumann's friend Walker David Teret on guitar, ex-Lungfish member Mitchell Feldstein on drums, and Corey Allender on bass. Arbouretum's debut, Long Live the Well-Doer, was released in 2004, and their second album, Rites of Uncovering, came out three years later. The latter was recorded in part by Paul...
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Rites of Uncovering, Arbouretum
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