Arnold

Hillside

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Part of the new mini-trend of rural British psychedelia that spawned Gorky's Zygotic Mynci, the Beta Band, and Gomez, Arnold is a young trio from a small village in Kent whose full-length debut, 1998's Hillside, positively trounces the demo-quality EP that had preceded it. From the first notes of the ghostly opener "Fleas Don't Fly," Arnold's intriguing mixture of Floydian atmospherics, Robert Wyatt-style whimsy and post-post-punk stylistic diversity makes Hillside one of the most ambitious debut albums of its year. These slowly unfolding, mostly minor-key songs blend acoustic guitars, vintage synths, tape effects, and found sound into a compelling form of lo-fi psych pop. A couple of tracks have an unfortunate element of weird for weird's sake, especially the expendable and overlong spoken word interlude "Rabbit." Most of the time, though, singing drummer Phil Morris' breathy voice and Mark Saxby's textured guitar raise the tunes beyond the merely clever or trippy. Songs like the mournful "Windsor Park," which is slowly overwhelmed by a rising tide of white noise, or the harsher "Ira Jones Goes to the Country" recall the fuzzy desperation of Big Star's Sister Lovers, but on playfully experimental tracks like the near-montage "Rubber Duck (Parts One, Two, and Three)" and the Teenage Fanclub-like raver "Moroccan Roll (Part Two)," Arnold show an endearing sense of humor that keeps Hillside from sounding mopey.

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