House of Sticks

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Arborea make several important steps with their third album, House of Sticks. Building on the mostly acoustic vocabulary worked up by Buck and Shanti Curran over their first four years as a band (which followed more than a half-decade of marriage), the two add several new tricks to their bag as they create otherworldly folk music. Shanti, for the first time, adds a harmonium to several cuts, including the title track and the closing "In the Tall Grass." Its voluminous droning presence, in turn, allows Buck room to add spare electric guitar, which he does on "House of Sticks" to dramatic effect. In other places, the harmonium gives them an even quieter space to work within. On "In the Tall Grass," backwards masked sounds blend with distant vocals and tinkles of glass. Throughout, Buck's disciplined guitar playing -- in the new American school of Jack Rose, Robbie Basho, and others -- gives Shanti's spectral voice a base from which to haunt. On "Dance, Sing, Fight," Buck adds his own voice, quietly, to the mix. The 32-minute album is spare in nearly every way, and largely is as consistent as their previous, though not every experiment works. "Alligator" employs something like a vocal hook, Shanti singing with a more bluesy precision rather than working via dreaminess, resulting in something more overtly folk-pop. Though not unpleasant, or even entirely removed from their other songs, it breaks the ethereal mood slightly. On the whole, though, the two follow their haunt-hunches with a refinement unknown by many acts.

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