Arlo Aldo (CD Release)
with Sleep Experiments and Emily Rodgers
Brillobox / Saturday 02.02.2013 / 9:30 / $7
Words by Brendan
Arlo Aldo’s Zelie is a genre-crossing musical journey that captures both the grittiness of Pittsburgh’s cityscape and the lonesomeness of the surrounding countryside. This album plays as a soundtrack for the winter and spring ahead.
That there quote is from the promotional blurb about Arlo Aldo‘s debut album. Typically, I’d just skim these hyperbolic descriptions, looking for terms that would pique my interest like “rock” or “psychedelic” or anything but “dance remix”. I was already rather familiar with the material of Zelie having seen the band perform a handful of times around town. Even with that previous experience, though, I was not quite prepared for the experience of this album. And even with a couple of listens under my ear’s metaphorical belts, I didn’t pick up on the nuances of the music that the band has revealed in interviews. I pursued some thoughts that seemed like the ones conveyed in the quote above, but they weren’t the same. I realized this after reading said blurb and listening to the album again. And again. And then a few more times.
What did I find in the album? It’s a natural question, but I don’t have a great answer. As a writer, I’m always looking for a cohesive story to tell, a narrative of sorts with a nicely codified message. And as a mathematician, I’m also looking for rationality and order, something beautifully concrete. Zelie offers neither of these, and I think that’s why I like it. In the spacious guitar tone of David Manchester and the reserved rhythms of percussionist Brandon Forbes, I hear the makings of a methodical mind, but the occasional milli-moment pauses just before a note, the ones that extend your anticipation just enough to be noticed … in those moments, I hear the subtle derailing of a train. It’s a reminder that even the most rigorous of patterns is always susceptible to change. And in the vocal interplay of Manchester and organist Ariel Nieland, as well as Nieland’s notes (check out the funereal organ drone in “Highway”, and the vocal harmonies in the middle of “Regrets”), I hear the makings of a story, but the lyrics don’t belie a moral, any kind of resolution. This tug-of-war really plucks my internal strings, and it’s tough to shake.
“Lullabye” and “Snow Day” are perfect introductions to an album that so softly shouts, “Winter is here!” They’re mellow and languid but hardly lazy, just exactly that kind of sense you get on a snow day, where you know you can sit around all day and just can’t wait to do so. “Josephine” kicks the tempo up, then, bouncing an organ tune atop the sleigh bells and drums. It’s infectious and certainly gets me singing along.
Towards the centerpiece of the record, “Highway” and “Regrets” are an interesting pair, both overtly downtempo and exploratory. “Highway” lets the speed pull the song downward but only just barely so, ironically toying with the listener’s sense of reality as they entertain a tale of a funeral. “Regrets” takes its time at first but eventually lets the twinkly harmonies blossom into guitars that push the boundaries, both of volume and cohesion, ultimately touching on a reverberating shoegaze solo that lingers well beyond its presence.
The centerpiece of the album, though, is truly “Galileo”. Manchester has spoken of this song in an interview as being about “the ideals of having a child and this small package that has so much impact on your life”, and this would understandably come across as an important part of the record. The mood is, interestingly, quite fatherly, with a mix of endearing-bordering-on-overbearing vocals (plus an odd cadence on the “juggernaut” lines—I love the word and usage, but it somehow sounds slightly off to me) and lullabye-like melodies. It’s captivating, though, and it makes me wonder what it’s like to have a son. Breaking expectations, Arlo Aldo then lets the profundity drop for a bit, chugging along with “Ghost Of The Union Pacific”. They’ve touted this as their rock ‘n roll song at live shows, their one upbeat tune. I like it and will forever thigh-drum along with this one; it might feel a bit out of place between the surrounding slow songs, but I’ll be gosh-darned if this grandfatherly narrative doesn’t get my toes tapping. Up next, “Doubt” feels as abrupt as its upnote ending. It’s still the mystery song on the record, to me, and I like to think that a month from now (or maybe at the show tomorrow night) I’ll have an epiphany about this song. For now, I like the clinky melodies and reluctant march-like beats. But the next two songs are my favorites.
There’s a story to “Ballad Of Monsieur Petit”: if you’ve seen the documentary Man On Wire—about the aforementioned Frenchman who conspired (in 1974) with friends and acquaintances to sneak in and rig a cable between NYC’s Twin Towers whereupon he traipsed across the wire (400 meters up in the sky) for almost an hour—then you know the story. If you’ve only heard about the event, that won’t even do the song justice. There’s a magical fanaticism to Petit’s adventures, as portrayed in the film, that are captured by Arlo Aldo in this song. I might be saying this because I just watched the film a couple nights ago, but I really don’t think so; you owe it to yourself to watch and listen to these things. Now, I had to leave “Honeymoon’s End” for, well, the end, because it deserves to be separated from the other songs. I listened to this song while walking to campus the other day in the pouring rain, when it was randomly 50° in January, betwixt snowy days. It was perfect. The trudging of my feet in the cool rainfall on the sidewalks, the faint hum of traffic behind my blaring earbuds, the settling darkness of the evening … everything felt just right and, despite the overwhelming sadness of this song, nothing could make me question that. Not all sad songs are meant to make you sad. Some are strange comforts, perfect soundtracks for lasting moments. “Honeymoon’s End” was just that for me, and I had to walk around sans music for the next five minutes, just to let the feelings settle. It was worth it.
Arlo Aldo’s CD Release show is tomorrow night at the Brillobox. It’s only $7, and you get to see the songs of this album, as well as Sleep Experiments’ captivating, dreamy pop and Emily Rodgers’ powerful, languid folk rock. Three awesome Pittsburgh bands. Don’t miss it.