James Milne’s alter-ego adopts a narrator persona for a journeyman’s worldview.
Natalie Shaw 2009
Lawrence Arabia, the alter-ego of New Zealand's James Milne, returns with his second full-length LP after stints in Okkervil River, The Brunettes and The Ruby Suns. It's only apt then that after upping sticks to London via Port Chalmers and Stockholm, his second album Chant Darling invents a journeyman's self-mocking world of despair and disdain, easy on the ear and graciously free of the twee sentiment that could so easily come as part of the 60s-aping production.
Low-slung Americana and indie-pop hooks form the core to Milne's distantly-voiced dry wit on topics including schoolboy crushes and drunken debauchery. His wit is also markedly tongue- in-cheek, adding pinpointed high octaves to emphasis the emotion. There is the feel of an honest, earnest lyrical jaunt at play here, against the lounge-set vocals and wriggly melodies.
A curveball comes in the form of Auckland CBD Part Two, an uplifting and inquisitive track full of tropical swagger, African rhythms and off-kilter syncopation that eschews all regard for a logical sequencing. Its soft-focus picks up from where Vampire Weekend's exploration left off and, around two-thirds in, makes way for a wonderful interlude of carnival brass and remorseful strings.
Apple Pie Bed is all quirky lyrics and lissom melodies, a succinct expression of Lawrence Arabia's bookish, slightly disembodied approach to situations more than fitting in Jonathan Richman's back-catalogue. And on paean to hipsterdom The Beautiful Young Crew, he wryly sings: “They love each other. But they hate each other/ They’re afraid of each other, because they want to screw each other.”
This album's orchestration is plush, and peaks are emphasised with spot-on key changes, fills and ever-soaring vocals. Sure, it would benefit from a trimming of lazy passages such as the one midway through the dreamy The Crew of the Commodore, but Milne's overriding strength comes from gloriously poppy guitar lines, deft phrasing, and sugar-sweet harmonies.
Lawrence Arabia's narrator persona, with one foot sternly in the past and the other staggering, trying desperately to get away, loiters before it settles. This makes Chant Darling a charming listen whose dolorous sentiment recurs like a welcome motif, each song taking time to reveal its full charm.