Where Are The Arms
(Second Story Sound)
[Rating: 4 stars]
Virtuosic pop music is always a tough sell. Frequently musicians with the skill to move beyond three-chords and a catchy hook find themselves in other arenas — not uncommonly as a producer of other folks’ records where a larger musical palate can infuse a bit more artistry into otherwise pale tracks. Gabriel Kahane might find the most comfortable company among such talented musician/producers — Jon Brion and Tucker Martine among them; surely he has the chops. Instead, however, he’s made a beautiful record in Where are the Arms that seeks to bridge the gap that generally opens up between audience interest and attention when the songs get a little complicated. It’s a gap that he covers well. The “pop” element on Where Are The Arms is crisp and at moments incredibly intricate, but the melodies are singable and the story-songs fascinating studies in emotional and physical geography.
Complicated listens can, of course, be rewarding. Fans of the quick-moving melodies and arrangements on Fiona Apple’s 1999 classic When the Pawn… or the careful symmetry of Punch Brothers’ complex “Blind Leaving the Blind” suite on their 2008 release Punch, will find familiar things to love about Where Are The Arms. Both of the aforementioned records are examples of music that risk virtuosity successfully as an important layer of the musical package. Kahane’s lead track “Charming Disease” and, later, “Icebox” handle this difficult ground effortlessly and, at least once, he breaks new pop-musical ground all together with the beautiful flute arrangements on “Winter Song”. Others such as “Calabash & Catamaran” push things just a tad far in their every-instrument-in-the-basement approach. To be fair, it must be difficult to know what to put aside when your talent casts such a wide net.
With that in mind, Where Are The Arms is most successful in its ability to be utterly lovely — to capture passing moments in stark, poetic details and then let them pass as if in conversation. Three tunes especially do this so well. “Merritt Parkway”, title track “Where are the Arms”, and album closer “Great Lakes”, are examples of Kahane’s light touch and they render the occasional overwrought moments all the more unnecessary. Those moments are quickly forgotten, however, as there is so much more here to capture audience attention. Herein lies the success of Where Are The Arms: Gabriel Kahane pushes the musical envelope but only does so to compel his audience towards more sophisticated – and therefore rewarding – listening.