Joseph Arthur, who had been a critic's darling since his debut in 1998, scored a kind of sleeper hit on the fringes with 2002's Redemption's Son. His searing poetic lyrics and quirky, left-of-the-dial rock and pop sensibilities shone like a flickering beacon from the underside of human emotion and vulnerability. On Our Shadows Will Remain, he takes a further left turn from the heart of isolation and darkness into the broken heart of humanity, seeking to reveal the commonality of experience on the emotional and societal fringes via a sonically labyrinthine tapestry that is by turns raucous, tender, brash, and beautiful. On "Can't Exist," the glissando pop layers of organ and electric guitars underscore his broken, unapologetically confessional lyrics -- "Well I can't exist when you disappear/Disintegrate and I swallow everything/Sister don't be scared, a thousand times or more, I've walked away alive/On my feet again." As the chorus comes roaring from the center, a wall of squalling guitars ushers in a chorus of voices singing a mutant, netherworld gospel of determination and tears. On "Stumble and Pain," a muddied bass and drum pulse plods from the heart of the mix, as a fuzzed-out electric guitar and a forlorn, wasted bluesy acoustic carry Arthur's sung poetry over a string section played by the Prague Philharmonic -- though they sound like they are a forgotten string quartet playing for its life at the end of time itself.
The spidery rock of "Devil's Broom" is more straight-ahead at the front but somehow more ominous: "In the time when I can't enough to make it/Give me back half the sense that I used to have/Waking up in the sun face down on the pavement/Everything I own in a garbage bag" -- but by the time the refrain slides around everything becomes lush, nightmarishly euphoric, and utterly strange and beautiful. Another standout is "Echo Park." The wonderfully arranged strings provide a patchy cushion that is elegant, graceful, and nearly pastoral, as they hover above and float though Arthur's poignant yet hopeful love song. "Even Tho" is a mutant pop song, with drum loops, wispy, shimmering keyboards, and a killer falsetto soul vocal from Arthur. The muscular drum loop "Wasted" undercuts the vulnerable vocal and dubby organ and electric piano lines. And so it goes on into the nocturnal, narcotic faux R&B groove of "Failed," the fractured overdrive lullaby that is "I Am," and the spindly, skeletal tenderness that is "A Smile That Explodes." The set closes with the spooky, harrowing narrative of "Leave Us Alone," closing the record on a fractured note. But the fragmentation, disintegration, and outsider narratives that are at the heart of the protagonists in Arthur's songs are familiar, too. Though they may live on the stiletto edges, they speak our language in that they bravely and even innocently articulate the most hidden of emotions, the ones we are afraid to admit let alone speak. And in doing so they bring them into the scope of the reachable, the mentionable, and their weight can be shared even among those of us lucky or fearful enough to never experience their consequences. Arthur is in a class of his own and Our Shadows Will Remain is a monstrous, memorable outing, his finest moment in a career that is thus far full of them.