It is a well-worn joke in rock circles, "they are big in Japan." Rather than spending their time searching for fame, Baltimore’s Arbouretum has instead concentrated on honing their craft. It just so happens that the muse that guides them is completely outside of current rock trends. Like Richard Thompson’s work from the mid-70s, the band’s poetic lyrics and slow, heavy build are not stuff of the quick fix. Their music stands in stark contrast to a culture that is more about video and track placement than criticism and discourse. As such, it should come as no surprise that they have found success in the United Kingdom, Thompson’s birthplace. Arbouretum has been praised in Mojo 4 star reviews that end with phrases like “It just does not get much better,” a Guardian piece proclaiming that they are “One of the most distinctive voices around” and an Uncut 4 star review calling the music “Dense, thrilling and literate.”
Coming out of the Fog continues Arbouretum’s journey as their most focused and best-recorded album to date. Dave Heumann’s vocals soar atop his guitar solos and Corey Allender’s crunchy bass lines. Arbouretum have reigned in some of their maximalist tendencies, with every song coming in under 7 minutes. Heumann, Allender, Brian Carey (drums), and Matthew Pierce (keyboard, synthesizer, percussion), continue to mine the same breadth of styles made familiar on The Gathering and Song of the Pearl, notably the languid ballads, fuzzed-out burners, and heavier songs that have defined the group’s unique doom laden folk-rock sound.
Throughout Coming Out of the Fog, Heumann’s vocals take on a meditative quality, melodies unraveling effortlessly over Carey’s steady grooves. Syncopated rhythms come to the fore on “The Promise,” building tension, and leading to a climax of synth swells and chromatic guitar lines. Elsewhere, on “Oceans Don’t Sing,” guest musician Dave Hadley’s plaintive pedal-steel guitar lays a bed for some of Heumann’s most impassioned singing set to tape. Spending time on pre-production allowed for a more detailed approach to recording. Carey’s drums were tuned specifically for almost every track on the album, and tape was used to achieve the warmth only found in analog.
When taken as a whole, the lyrical theme of an individual’s relationships and struggles with forces larger than one’s self emerges. In “The Long Night,” a protagonist is faced with a metaphysical blackness, a dark night of the soul. “Renouncer” was inspired by Colin Dickey’s book The Afterlives of the Saints. It references the story of Saint Simeon, who traveled into the Syrian Desert and lived perched on a column for 36 years, living a life of death in an attempt to become closer to God. Bolstered by Heumann’s naturalistic imagery, “Oceans Don’t Sing” reflects on humanity’s powerlessness in the face of time’s steady passing. An exception to much of the record’s darkness, the title track is calming and reassuring, carried by Pierce’s affecting, sparse piano lines. Coming Out of the Fog is a well-crafted thing of beauty, an album that reveals itself more with every listen and whose lyrics take the listener out of themselves.