On Christmas day 2002, Baltimore Psych-Rock Quartet Arbouretum played their first show, perhaps a fitting birthday given their tendency towards impressive beard stylings. Fast-forward 10 years and this month they release fifth full-length album Coming Out of the Fog, the title of which could indeed be viewed as an apt manifesto for a band transitioning into their second decade of existence, as well as a general summing up of recovery from the post-festive haze.
Arboretum have long been associated with extended fuzz-laden jams, from the 10-minute plus offerings on previous albums, to a live, cassette only, re-imagining of Velvet Underground's seminal improv piece 'Sister Ray'. This is a band that revels in the slow build as opposed to the quick fix, so it is significant that Coming Out of the Fog represents a departure for the group in the sense that it seems to be a more concise body of work in terms of both individual song structures and how it sits together as a whole. The album's eight tracks clock in at under 40 minutes, and embrace traditional Americana sentiments as much as the ambient Earth influenced riffs with which they are perhaps more synonymous.
However, that being said, there's still more than enough of Arbouretum's trademark dark-groove to signify that this is evolution as opposed to revolution. 'Renouncer' showcases Heumann's effortless guitar work as the notes fuzz on the edge of feedback and chords are given space to breathe. This wash is underpinned by drums that are relentlessly measured and precise, sounding like Neil & Crazy Horse are being stripped back to the bare bones and then told to take it easy. Elsewhere, opening track 'The Long Night' revolves around a soaring yet fragile vocal delivery and ethereal lyricism about an all encompassing darkness. It possesses the off-kilter mysticism of English folk, but with a Country-Rock back-bone drenched in hammond organ and served up with a slice of old-school guitar soloing.
Indeed the ambience of Coming Out of the Fog is one of textural warmth and authenticity, something that is particularly evident when the guitar squall is stripped away and replaced by a mournful lap-steel during the pair of ballads that close the respective sides of the album. 'Oceans Don't Sing' delivers what starts as a brittle waltz before building and morphing into a celebratory jam that The Band would have been proud of. This sentiment is then revisited on the album's title and also closing track which, following on from the jarring instrumental meltdown of 'Easter Island', is a gorgeously simple and laid back epilogue that revisits the isolation echoed at the beginning of the set, but with a sense of a return to light that is underpinned by a bright piano line and lazy D&B groove that brings the listener into land and offers a sense of musical completion.
This is a testament to the amount of thought and focus that has been put into Coming Out of the Fog as Arbouretum have managed to create an album that distils varied and potentially disparate styles into a fully realised body of work. This is in itself an achievement and suggests that a decade into their career the band are moving forward with a clarity and purpose that indicates that their tenth year could well their best to date.