Any musician with a yearning for old-school methodology has to walk a fine line nowadays. Modern technology makes recording and producing so much easier, as well as giving better results in many cases. Nevertheless, when recording this, her ninth album, Arielle aimed for a sound that was specifically anchored in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, and therefore used as much vintage gear and technique as she could, without compromising the sound. The result is a gem of an album, poppy, melodic and genuinely uplifting, with a rock edge courtesy of her own skill at the guitar and the mic, along with her unique, hand-built guitar she has dubbed Two Tone. Despite being a guitar-oriented album, the guitar is never overplayed. Arielle describes herself as “a songwriter first, then a singer, and then I play guitar.” She also expresses her admiration for performers who “always play what’s right for the song, even if that means that people don’t necessarily know everything that they’re capable of doing.” So the guitar is always there, played with taste and sensitivity, and only occasionally does it get ‘turned up to 11’, so to speak.
The meat of the album was recorded by Arielle and a select band of session musicians on a single day, and it’s certainly not overlong at a bare 30 minutes, but the musicianship is clear and obvious, the production values absolutely pin-sharp, and Arielle’s voice itself is tremendous, walking a line between sweet innocence and creamy smoothness. The set opens with thirty seconds of modem sounds with various clicks and computer bleeps, underlying a doom scenario in spoken word, in which humankind are so dependent upon technology that they can’t live without it – this morphs straight into the first number with deep, electronic bass notes. Digital World is the effectively the theme song, a 1980s-drenched rock-pop number, harking back to The Bangles’ Manic Monday, Roxette, and even further back to The Who’s Baba O’Reilly. She laments the way the digital world has taken over; reminiscing for the time when Coke came in glass bottles, and kids looked up stuff in books. At nearly six minutes with the extended intro, this is the longest composition on the album by far, and a genuine highlight.
Lead single Peace of Mind starts with a pair of Indian harmoniums of all things, (or is that harmonia?), and also features a classic Rickenbacker 12-string that recalls The Byrds and other ‘60s bands. It starts to rock harder at the end, but in a psychedelic fashion, something like the end of The Monkees’ Pleasant Valley Sunday. This Is Our Intervention ups the musical stakes somewhat, dropping in and out of multiple tempos and rhythms, with odd bars in 7/8, ending on a complex, climbing riff that goes straight into the next track without a break. This is the Status Quo-ish You’re Still A Man; just over two minutes long but still diverting briefly into a jazzy swing.
Inside & Outside could hardly be more of a contrast, with acoustic guitar on the intro leading into a romantic ballad with heavy beat, reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours era. This track also features a few sweet bars of harmony guitar. The band has lots of fun with the light-hearted I’d Rather Be In England, in which self-confessed anglophile Arielle tinkers around with everything from Celtic phrasing, a 7/8 tempo, a dream sequence in waltz time, bombastic guitars à la Brian May and Queen, and even a quick blast of God Save The Queen. It’s a genuine sentiment too, as she lives in the UK on and off and professes her love of the country to all who will listen. Living In A Fortress is another ballad with acoustic fingerpicking, but defiantly defensive. The set ends on Reimagine Redefine, a trippy rocker with a slow, heavy drumbeat and featuring the album’s only section of overdriven, shredding guitar. Honestly, this is a really enjoyable set from a young, independent songwriting musician with a ton of talent and a great voice. It rocks in places and toys with proggy complexity, but for the most part is just joyously tuneful and fun, with plenty there for traditionalists to enjoy. For those who want to dig deeper into the lyrics, it also tells us quite a bit about Arielle herself. The video below features a short clip of those Indian harmoniums at about 1:30 too!