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Arthur & Yu - In Camera

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Artist: Arthur & Yu

Album: In Camera

Label: Hardly Art

Review date: Jul. 13, 2007

In the influence game, there’s no wildcard like the Velvet Underground. Recently, it seems to be a kind of secret code for ‘the musical equivalent of Celestial Seasonings Sleepy Time tea,’ which isn’t bad in itself, but is a bummer when backed up by 40 years’ worth of exegesis. All that’s a matter of how we hear the music, of course, though the idea of VU as a proto-K Records band has been entrenched for almost two decades (check out the video of Anthony Kiedis and John Frusciante covering “After Hours” in a boat on a canal in Amsterdam for the apogee/nadir). Arthur & Yu briefly calls all this to mind, but this Seattle band does Portland better than Portland itself on their debut, In Camera, also the inaugural release from Sub Pop sub-imprint Hardly Art (a moniker appropriately cribbed from a Thermals track). Though the music casts backwards, it’s successful on pretty much every count for two main reasons: 1. It’s well-written and blearily produced; and 2. It’s self-aware and not neurotic. As a whole, In Camera goes down much like Galaxie 500’s first record or Brightblack Morning Light’s self-titled LP: Each track seems like a variation on the previous one until it doesn’t; the band itself seems like an homage until you check the supposed source.

The obviousness of the art direction doesn't do justice to the music or the nostalgic wordplay of the title. Although the title seems a little tossed-off and has some maybe unwanted associations (isn’t it a legal term?), but aptly captures the ideas that focus the band - it's not just Arthur & Yu that are frozen in childhood photos that have taken the place of memories themselves, but their own imaginary relationship to their record collections, the operative influence and musical interlocutor here. From all appearances, and not only because of the parenthetical dedication to Neil Young appended to “Come to View,” it’s a safe bet that they’re pretty heavily populated by meta-rock - that is, the generation of musicians for whom rock (or country, or folk) became an object of intense study and, consequently, a lifestyle. In Camera feels like an album-length attempt to duplicate the feeling of space and possibility inside of After the Gold Rush or Grievous Angel while trying to resurrect the context in which is was first experienced.

It’s appropriate that Arthur & Yu are the childhood nicknames of core members Grant Olsen and Sonya Westcott: Deliberately or not, In Camera sounds like two childhood friends vibing on a Proust’s madeleine moment. Even though they may be going in opposite directions, each song is a measure of common experience, something that’s as much created in the present as retrieved from the past. While the 10 tracks here never approach anything like the haunted house bad trip aesthetic of “The Murder Mystery” or “Revolution Blues,” the home-recorded warmth still comes couched in a seriously heavy, turbulent atmosphere reminiscent of the panic-calm of live member Dove Amber’s former band, Duster. There are definitely lyrics here, maybe even narratives, but in comparison to the story the music’s telling, they’re kind of too indistinct.

By Brandon Bussolini

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