New Zealand’s Lawrence Arabia Delivers a Delightfully Quirky “Absolute Truth”

1 Nov

James Milne is a 35-year-old singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist from Christchurch, New Zealand. Early in his youth, he performed as a bassist for a pop group named the Brunettes and as a drummer for another group, the Ruby Suns.

But in 2006, he launched his individual career with the debut album for yet another pop group he had formed — the Reduction Agents — as well as his first solo release as a performer known as Lawrence Arabia. While the groups would all fade into the past, his Lawrence Arabia identity took hold and has become a creative force in indie music over the past decade.

His 2010 follow-up to the self-titled Lawrence Arabia would be Chant Darling, featuring a delightfully quirky, “Apple Pie Bed” — which earned him a songwriting prize and a record deal. Next came The Sparrow in 2012, which revealed a maturing artist highlighted by tracks such as “The Listening Times” and Traveling Shoes.” If you haven’t heard any of these songs, it’s worth your time to take a quick trip to YouTube land.

Now, Milne has released his fourth album as Lawrence Arabia, the brilliant Absolute Truth, a 10-song set of indie pop-rock, chamber-pop and even some folk-rock. His lyrics are smart and often introspective; arrangements intricate, while sounding deceptively simple; production always polished. Milne has a knack for creating memorable melodies and musical hooks that will have you listening to this album again and again. Many of the stories that Milne tells on Absolute Truth seem to peer into the past and embody retro elements as he leaves his youth behind and looks to the future.

The album opens with “A Lake,” a melodic pop-rock tune with vocals shifting effortlessly between normal register and falsetto. Layers are added throughout; building from a reverbed acoustic sound by adding drums, piano, mellow guitar, and strings. The harmonies are rich and Beatles-like.

The next song, “Sweet Dissatisfaction,” demonstrates how much variety you’ll find on a Lawrence Arabia album. This is simple, bouncy and swingy — with plink-y piano and brass trappings, and for some reason, faint conversation audible in the background. Wish I knew what that was about, but I haven’t read anything that references it.

Skipping ahead to track 6, “O Heathcote,” we get a number that’s even more Beatles-like, at the height of their artistry. The melody rises and falls as it ambles along, supporting laid-back vocals.

“Another Century” is one of my favorites on the album, a total retro take, a slow and swaying dance with intricate rhythm and bass line, strings, bells, and rich vocals.

Absolute Truth is fabulous from start to end, a number called “What Became of That Angry Young Man.” This may be a semi-autobiographical look back at Milne’s younger years, innocence examined and sung about in open, honest lyrics. It’s a wonderful closer for an album chock-full of appealingly quirky compositions.

If you don’t know Lawrence Arabia, Absolute Truth will serve as a great introduction. If you do know this artist’s music and haven’t picked up the album yet, you’ll want to get online and buy one!



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