After changing their name from Pinecones to the even-greener Arbor Labor Union, this Georgia four-piece debuted on Sub Pop with I Hear You, a peculiar mix of stoner rock, post-punk, and psychedelia with a just a touch of twang. The album introduced the group's core guitar duo of singer Bo Orr and fellow axeman Brian Adams who, when not chugging mightily at a middling pace, were prone to writing spry and intriguing circular riffs that spun neatly throughout the songs. It's the latter of those two tendencies that comes to the foreground on New Petal Instants, the band's eccentric 2020 follow-up. Led by the exuberant sylvan guitar pop standout "Flowerhead," ALU presents a strange world of errant jangle and post-punk complexity served up with a vaguely Southern-fried hippie mindset. They've almost completely done away with the heavier stoner rock elements of their previous release in favor of an inventive twin guitar attack that makes them feel like the Soft Boys of the South. With Orr's friendly tenor caterwauling atop a wild double-fingerpicked frenzy, "Big Face in the Sky" is another track highlighting the band's erratic, woolly charm. Occasional fiddles and banjos pop out amid distant birdsong and wah-wah guitar squalls with rickety harmonies and shouted gang vocals reaching skyward. Countering the loose folksy appeal is the album's production, which is rather jagged with the guitar tones bordering on overly harsh. As unique as some of the central riffs are, many of them tend to be repeated over and over, giving the impression that their initial creation was enough and no secondary motif was needed. As a result, songs that sometime wow at the top lose their luster by the end. Still, New Petal Instants is a major improvement on its predecessor, with ALU landing on a distinctive and original new sound.
AllMusic Review by Timothy Monger