NPR Second Stage September 9, 2008 -
Shanti and Buck Curran, who write and record under the name Arborea, are pitched as a husband-and-wife folk duo from Maine, but there's very little in their songs that resembles traditional roots music. Arborea's self-titled CD reflects the sepia-toned landscapes and creaky acoustic instrumentation of backwoods Americana, and the minor-key narratives tell sinister tales in the spirit of English murder ballads. But Arborea is mostly an experimental album, with the Currans bowing and plucking their stringed instruments to create spacey, ambient drones more than standard chord progressions.
Most of the music on Arborea consists of first-take improvisations, which accounts for the album's amorphous structure. It's not that it's an indistinct mush of sound: Each song has a clear beginning and end. But the soundscapes tend to drift quietly into frameless, psychedelic territory, with only Shanti Curran's hypnotically beautiful voice anchoring the mix.
The instrumentation is an incredibly bare-bones mix of banjo, various guitars, violins and cello. There's virtually no percussion to speak of, except for the occasional frame drum or distant bells. The result is chilling at times, with Arborea using the empty spaces and silence as much as notes to create a remote and eerie world.
"Red Bird" is Arborea's most accessible and traditional track (it'd fit well on any Gillian Welch CD), while "Black Mountain Road" is one of its more experimental. The song begins with Shanti Curran's voice backmasked against a reversed banjo line. Played backwards, she sings, "Follow me where the north wind goes to the end of Black Mountain Road." It's a line repeated throughout the song, before building to a swarm of fluttering strings. Arborea is a bit melodramatic at times (the recurring rain stick could have been left out of the mix), and the spareness can leave listeners wanting something meatier. But overall, Shanti and Buck Curran get it right, with memorable songs that linger in the ether long after the last track ends.
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