Bands to Watch #351: Arborist

By on Friday, 24th July 2015 at 12:00 pm
 

Header photo by Declan Gallen

Belfast-based Arborist is described as being “fueled by the lyrical and musical misadventures of Mark McCambridge and a cast of well-travelled musicians.” The Arborist moniker refers to McCambridge himself, who first performed under the name as a solo artist in the early part of 2013. The journeyman singer/songwriter has since gathered a bevy of band members including Richard Hill, James Heaney, Ben McAuley, Johnny Ashe and Luke Bannon, who accompanied him at the Great Escape 2015 back in May.

Arborist’s music is the kind of quiet, self-assured folk that steals your attention before you realize it, drawing you in with its thoughtful, evocative poetry and country-tinged instrumental charms. Behind McCambridge’s softly lilting lead vocals are slurred string melodies and lightly layered vocal harmonies, woven around gently rocking guitar and percussion rhythms. McCambridge’s singing voice has just a hint of roughness around the edges that strikes the balance between strength in the solo passages and a seamless blend with the backing harmonies.

In Arborist’s latest single ‘Twisted Arrow’, which was released on the 4th of May, backing harmonies are contributed by former Pixies bassist and Breeders lead singer Kim Deal, who agreed to the collaboration in an email exchange with McCambridge. The track was recently featured by BBC 6 Music, but if you missed it there, you can watch the accompanying video, directed by Stephen Agnew, just below.

[youtube]https://youtu.be/3SJkVQX3VUE[/youtube]

‘Border Blood’ is even more unapologetically country-flavoured, with lyrics about guns and holsters, saddles and horses, and the striking chorus, “it’s either in your heart or in your belly / they’re gonna make it hard for you to choose / you didn’t come down here to lose.” But in this song, the country twang is mitigated by the addition of piano melodies and soaring jazz-tinged brass over the gently rocking rhythm and wailing steel guitar. The instrumental layers add depth and significance to the second verse lyrics, “revenge tastes bitter and strange / there’s something in the danger that keeps you on the dusty trail”, bringing the track to a bittersweet close, very much like a lonely cowboy riding off into the sunset.

[youtube]https://youtu.be/NcRSYdrVfWo[/youtube]

Earlier single ‘Incalculable Things’ is Arborist’s most popular song on Spotify, with over 65,000 plays. It has a more immediately dramatic folk rock style, opening with a heartbeat-like drum rhythm and a haunting guitar melody as McCambridge intones the first vocal line, “well, I received nothing for putting nothing in / it seemed a just reward in truth, so you’d think I’d be content.” The instrumental outro hints at the country style of Arborist’s more recent songs, but it has a bit of a surprise ending in the piano part, perhaps illustrating McCambridge’s overarching lyrical idea that things are not as straightforward as they appear.

Though McCambridge’s sonic palette has clearly benefitted from the added talents of his bandmates and collaborators, the essence of Arborist’s music is in his deeply introspective songwriting and the stark melancholy of his vocal delivery. Those traits speak most effectively for themselves in the following live performance video of ‘The Force of Her Will’, recorded in January for Irish language television channel TG4.

[youtube]https://youtu.be/vImZN6HVvao[/youtube]

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