Wednesday, February 10, 2010

pop*eye...Lawrence Arabia - Chant Darling (2010)

Extremely Pleasant

Lawrence Arabia - Chant Darling (2010)

*I Proud To Recommended!!!*

New Zealander James Milne makes a big self-deprecating splash with this second album hidden behind his Lawrence Arabia pseudonym. It’s an intelligent frothy mix of post-Beatles jauntiness. There’s the nasal whine and sharp lyrical wit of Lennon whisked up with McCartney’s solo hit-and-miss poppy gymnastics – imagine a for once happy Lennon larking about on Ram. All this comes focused through the influential melodic lens of the closer to home, more recent, but similarly rooted career of the brothers Finn – with Milne’s youth meaning his sound more often mirrors the restrained whackiness peddled by Split Enz. Indeed, fellow traveller and son of same Liam Finn appears on the album. However, even if the available palate is familiar, the picture painted by the shear range of sounds and ideas presented here kick any implied ‘retro’ label far into touch.

The Beatles are an obvious touchstone for Milne with his Lennon-esque voice setting the scene from the opener ‘Look Like A Fool’. Elsewhere there is the strong kiwi influence of Chris Knox on ‘The Beautful Young Crew’. Lyrically Milne approaches day to day themes and infuses them with a 1950s romantic glow of apple pies, friends and lost love. ‘I’ve Smoked Too Much’ is the gem among the jewels of Chant Darling.

As might be expected from a past member, the bounciness of the Ruby Suns is much in evidence, though without much personal experience of said band, my thoughts were instead drawn to Architecture In Helsinki on a track like ‘Auckland CBD’. That’s ‘central business district’ – the location of this cheeky tale of young lust set to a sunny tropical shuffle. ‘Apple Pie Bed’ won what seems to be a kind of New Zealand Ivor Novello Award, and this certainly gives an indication of its pleasing charms. Equally poptastic is ‘The Beautiful Young Crew’, a gentle put-down to hipsters everywhere, whilst personal winner of the ‘can’t get it out of my brain’ award might just be the chorus of ‘I’ve Smoked Too Much’. Also to be included in the clutch of veritable chart buster material is ‘Come On Eileen’ stomping sound-alike ‘Eye A’, though to my ears it is the least successful of the four. (Note: that particular chart is the imaginary one in my head that has a definite pervading flavour of the best of 1966-68). Meanwhile furthest from the three minute pop song in both possible senses is ‘The Crew Of The Commodore’ – a meandering pseudo psychedelic soundscape that keeps you guessing before blooming into a delicious finale meticulously just before the point of outstaying its welcome. Only the final virtually a cappella ‘Dream Teacher’ has a hint of over elaboration or self indulgence. Its well executed multi-tracked harmonies can be appreciated as a studio exercise, but it seems unrepresentative (if that’s not a contradiction in this varied album) and would be an unnecessary end, in sentiment and style, were it not for the fact that this is quite short at 36 minutes.

This is an album chock full of inventive arrangement and delivered with bubbling gusto and a winning confidence in his own abilities that keeps everything fresh. The rare times you might begin to wonder if a song is just too querky for its own good or is about to buckle under the kitchen sink of sounds thrown into the mix, it is soon reeled back from the brink with the introduction of a killer hook or lush melody. The fact that Milne produced the album himself gives further confirmation of his skills. Now that he has moved to a UK base we may be hearing a lot more of him, which is a very, very good thing. The unashamed sentimentality is never cloying and is diluted by the clever and/or cutting words. They themselves are often self-mocking to deflect any hint of arrogance, but this consistent style of wordplay also often has the effect of deflating any deeper emotional punch. He’s more of a craggy Ray Davies documenting the minutiae of life with a touch of music hall than a crooning McCartney, but is not too far away from mining the magic mother lode of a Jonathan Richman for wit and pathos.


A superficially whimsical sounding album (if you let the edge of the lyrics slip beneath you unnoticed) that could perhaps be most easily characterised as ‘extremely pleasant’ looks unlikely to break down any barriers, and means that this may be an easily overlooked release. But do not make that mistake – it has the well-crafted feel of a long time companion and it is to be hoped the first of much more to come from this emerging talent.



“Melding tales of lost love and sunken ships with lush harmonies and lo-fi charm… a striking release” - SUNDAY AGE (four stars)

“A charming mix of lo-fi indie and pop crooning” - MUSIC AUSTRALIA GUIDE (four stars)

“This New Zealand songwriter has some serious pop chops”
- mX (four stars)

“Milne’s knack for bookish, dryly witty lyrics (is) worthy of The Kinks’ Ray Davies”


“A stunning melodic brand of rock that combines Beach Boys-esque harmonies and guitar lines with tight, almost post-punk, rhythms”

“Quite beautifully blends his slightly disembodied, floating vocals with almost symphonic arrangements and lush pop dreamscapes”

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Inpress interview:


Rave magazine interview:

JAMES MILNE has no desire to be fashionable. As England’s indie-pop sensation LAWRENCE ARABIA, the ex-New Zealander tells NINA BERTOK he just wants to write a half-decent tune that resonates longer than six weeks.

“In England, they tend to get into this frenzy of fashion when it comes to bands and I’m not a very fashionable person,” Milne laughs. “I try to make music that is lasting, I just want to be able to write half-decent songs. It’s pretty crazy over there because they’ll jump onto one band and just basically throw money at it to secure the talent. The sheer scale of the finances involved in music in the UK is amazing … though New Zealand does have government funding and they have nothing like that in the UK.”

While most artists take quite some time to settle into a new country, for Milne making the transition to England wasn’t all about canned soup and two-minute noodles.

“Some good, little things happened in the first year, like a publicity company and a booking agent being interested in me,” he recalls. “I actually ended up playing a show in Sweden only a couple of months after I moved to England and I ended up touring the UK as well. But having said that, there were some difficulties too. For a time I was struggling to record an album because it’s so expensive there and when you first move there you don’t know many people and you don’t have those connections where you can get some friends to play a trumpet for you or whatever.”

As Milne acknowledges, you’ve got to make something in order for it to lead to something else – fast-forward to 2009 and Lawrence Arabia’s charming debut Chant Darling is finally born.

“I finished the new album a couple of weeks ago so I can’t wait for it to come out,” Milne enthuses. “It’s been recorded over the past couple of years and all over the place from a studio in Stockholm to various lounges and bedrooms. I’m not looking for an explosion or anything about it. More than anything, I’m looking forward to playing it as my last gig was in December in England.”

For Brisbane audiences, Milne’s show in March will feature his official backing band and fellow ex-New Zealanders, The Sneaks – flying in direct from England.

“I’ve had the same band for almost a year now. They’re really their own band but they were living in London at the same time too so we ended up playing together and becoming friends”

No stranger to bands, many would know Milne for his involvement with international acts The Brunettes and Okkervil River as well as The Reduction Agents some years back.

“I’ve actually released two albums already prior to this one,” he says. “Both of the albums came out about three years ago in New Zealand, at about the same time too. But Chant Darling is really the first album that is being properly released outside of New Zealand.”

Sunday Age M magazine review:


Music Australia Guide review:


mX review:


Beat review:

Subtly profound, New Zealand rogue James Milne’s – a.k.a Lawrence Arabia – music has squirmed its way, almost irremovably, into my head. The vessel for this cranial conquest is a stunning melodic brand of rock that combines Beach Boys-esque harmonies and guitar lines with tight, almost post-punk, rhythms. Recorded in three different countries – Sweden, U.K and New Zealand – Chant Darling is streets ahead of Lawrence Arabia’s 2006 self-titled debut. As well as the aforementioned Beach Boys comparison there are similarities to US blues-inspired wunderkind M. Ward. Track two, Auckland CBD, lolls about on a ukulele and in the chorus Milne’s purposely distant voice is accented by horns giving the song a Californian speakeasy – or Tiki bar/prohibition – vibe.The first single and real highlight from the album is the sweetly mesmerising The Beautiful Young Crew. Though riding a dreamy melody the chorus is an insightful and cutting commentary on lavishly trendy young people, “And they love each other / And they hate each other / They’re afraid of each other / Because they want to screw each other.” The inspiration for the lyrics came when Milne was living in London suburb Shoreditch, the centre of everything that is self-consciously cool in that grand old city.Additionally for The Beautiful Young Crew, you need to know of its brilliant film-clip: Shot in the style of a 1970’s political promotional video with Lawrence Arabia on the campaign trail in Wellington, there are shlockily cheesy scene’s – Milne staring up to the statue of former NZ prime minister Richard Seddon as though for guidance – but there is also footage of Milne’s character in his moments of self doubt, heightening the contrast created by the poetic fusion of dark lyrics sung to a sunny melody. YouTube it: you won’t be disappointed.Lawrence Arabia’s Kiwi accent is slight, but combined with his slightly nasal intonation, Split Enz and Crowded House comparisons are unavoidable.Sitting not far behind The Ruby Suns’ Sea Lion (Milne was once the Ruby Suns’ drummer), the best New Zealand release in the past year, Chant Darling deserves your attention. In fact, The Ruby Suns’ main man Ryan McPhun lived in California for most of his life, making Chant Darling the best release from a real New Zealander in 12 months.



Rave magazine review:

Lawrence Arabia is an alias for New Zealand musician James Milne whose resume includes The Brunettes and The Ruby Suns, as well as working as a touring member of Okkervil River. Chant Darling is Milne’s second album under the “Lawrence Arabia” nom de plume, and quite beautifully blends his slightly disembodied, floating vocals with almost symphonic arrangements and lush pop dreamscapes. Apple Pie Bed blends a sighing, lovely strain of pop, not dissimilar to ‘70s George Harrison, though with a slight T-Rex twist in the Metal Guru-esque guitars. Auckland CBD has a weird kind of nostalgia, Milne’s echoed croon seemingly emanating from an old transistor radio, before African horns ‘n guitars blend with roller disco synth strings and choirs to add to the surrealistic pop charm. By contrast, there’s a more deliberate pace to the soft epic The Crew Of The Commodore and the mantra-like folk of The Undesirables. Despite the bleak cover, with Milne standing in front of an ominously grey sea and building storm clouds, the music is injected with colour throughout, a Brian Wilson harmony here and an indie pop hook there – and everything somehow fits together almost perfectly.


Rose Quartz review:

New Zealanders have got so good at turning out lo-fi Californian pop gems it’s basically got to the point of bragging. There’s no other way to put it. When James Milne quit the Brunettes and the Ruby Suns to focus on his own bands, the Reduction Agents and Lawrence Arabia, you could have guessed they’d release albums of delicate, intricate pop with a PhD in mad hooks, and then they did. When he moved to London to wrestle with “difficult second album syndrome” (AKA DSAD, look it up it’s MEDICAL), you could have guessed that those life experiences would result in a sophomore album full of world-weary self awareness and seriously classy songwriting. And hey, guess what?

I don’t know yet if Chant Darling is a “modern pop masterpiece” like some have said, but if it isn’t, then album number three will be.

What this definitely is is an album where everything working perfectly – the subtle choral touches, the wry, captivating lyrics, the lush instrumentation. It’s not often you hear a record with such commonplace influences (the pop of the early 60s and late 70s) that never sounds obvious or derivative. Chant Darling’s been out for all of nine days so obvs it’s way too early to start making calls like “CLASSIC” or “BEST OF ‘09”. But it could be.

Inpress live review:


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Lawrence Arabia Myspace


sparkles with
a delicious chorus
that induces smiles on the faces
of whoever hears it!!!!

the portastylistic

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