Lawrence Arabia, the self-described "savant-like songwriting alter ego of New Zealander James Milne," makes his musical mark with Chant Darling, a 10-track trek that recalls the Beatles and the Beach Boys alike and – like its creator’s filmic counterpart – invites the audience to live and imagine with him.
"Like a Fool" finds Arabia firmly planted in the ‘60s, a throwing-caution-to-the-wind love song with falsetto vocals, diverse instrumentation, and Gregorian-esque chants. It’s that sonic assault that pervades the peculiar, tambourine-and-hand-claps "Apple Pie Bed" and catchy, McCartney hand-me-down "Eye A."
But don’t label Arabia as mere emulator just yet. The oddly-titled "Auckland CBD" (a reference to the city’s Central Business District or to ‘60s and ‘70s favorite, cannabis?) pairs the simple and the static, strong back-beats and horns in a decidedly different tribute to one’s homeland. Indulgent and out-of-tune, "I’ve Smoked Too Much" only furthers the Mary Jane suspicions.
The alliterative "The Crew of the Commodore" and "Fine Old Friends" rescue Arabia from his self-indulgent depths, soaring guitars adding a contemporary spin. Yet "Dream Teacher" ends the disc much like it began, with echoes of music past.
Chant Darling becomes more tribute than new ground, but refreshes nonetheless.
Chant Darling is out now on Bella Union Records.