Lawrence Arabia – The Sparrow Review

With ‘The Sparrow’, Aucklund’s Lawrence Arabia (James Milne) has built upon an old sound of smoking jacket pop, but there is a lot going in with this record past the references, and it’s all pretty easy to love

Bella Union Records, 2012

9.3 / 10.0

I’ve been hearing a lot of indie pop this year built around the smoky jazz pop sounds nearly perfected by the likes of Scott Walker and Serge Gainsbourg decades ago. Albums from Damien Jurado, Father John Misty, Bhi Bhiman, Scott Matthew, and indie pop classicists Imperial Teen have been absolutely knocking it out of the park doing just that all year long. As a matter of fact, more than of few of these outings will undoubtedly go down as my favorite records of 2012. This is the same vein that we find Lawrence Arabia (Aucklund, New Zealand’s James Milne) on his third record, The Sparrow. Not only is this album good, it might be the Best in Class, Best in Show.

I typically get somewhat annoyed by these fellows that feel the need to record under fifteen different names at the same time. It really is a very tedious process to give five different names to the music of one person. James Milne is one of those guys. Recording under his own name with the Reduction Agents and as Lawrence Arabia for his solo work. Okay, so it’s not exactly fifteen names, but you get the point. Where I think Milne really steps apart from multi-name artists like Atlas Sound and Deerhunter founder Bradford Cox is that Milne’s solo work seems much less willing to give in to those over-indulgent flights of fancy that end up completely indecipherable and all too forgettable. The music of Lawrence Arabia is nothing if not carefully crafted and meant for listeners to enjoy. I can always support an artist like that.

I dropped the Walker and Gainsbourg references earlier because they are easy to make. The entire record builds around this hazy, groovy foundation of drum, bass, and piano. Yet, there really is a lot more going on with Arabia’s The Sparrow than just that. “The Listening Times” and album closer “Legends” share a lot in common with Pink Floyd’s more sensitive moments (think “San Tropez”). “Early Kneecapping” could come off as a roadmap for Radiohead’s great latter day track “A Punchup at a Wedding”. And yet there are even more interesting moments like on the album opener “Traveling Shoes”, which has a string section almost directly inspired by an old Roy Orbison or Buddy Holly ballad with a Milne vocal delivered straight from John Lennon’s soul. I believe this is one of the finest musical moments I’ve heard this year. As Lawrence Arabia, Milne has developed a sort of character that shares the lothario swagger of The Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon and the unforgiving cool of Spoon’s Britt Daniel. It works for him and the songs here are more proof than anyone really needs.

The Sparrow ascertains that the music of Scott Walker has finally found its right time. If nothing else, we can finally stop referring to Walker and Gainsbourg as ‘ahead of their time’, or maybe we’ve just finally realized it to be true. Regardless, that isn’t what I find truly special about this record. Milne’s songs are just wonderful places for listeners to lose themselves into, like your favorite chair. Lawrence Arabia is a project that absolutely engages its audience, providing just the right amount of space for us to develop our own meanings and feelings about the work. I love nearly everything about this record, making it one of the most recommendable albums of the year. The Sparrow is a must-listen effort from a must-listen artist.

Key Tracks:
“Traveling Shoes”
“Lick Your Wounds”
“Early Kneecapping”

Purchase Lawrence Arabia’s The Sparrow

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About Chris Bell

Chris Bell was born in the suburbs of Kansas City, MO in 1981. His path toward a life enjoying music began at ten, when he first heard Queen. Chris attended Truman State University in Kirksville, MO, where he studied English and Communication Arts. While there, Chris spent three years working as an on-air disc jockey for 88.7 KTRM Radio. Chris was the host/creator of the weekly ‘Tangled Up In Bob’ show and a frequent guest on the station’s weekend talk format, serving as a guest commentator on music and politics. It was during this time that Chris was first published by the National Communication Association. His work, ‘Dylan and the New Left: How Political Song Changed American Political Rhetoric’ was presented at the 2002 NCA National Convention in New Orleans. Chris was the only undergraduate to present research on his panel, ‘Rhetorical Strategies in Music’. After college, Chris moved back to Kansas City and started his own talent management company, Poker Face Productions. He continued to manage that company until moving to Brooklyn, NY to pursue a business opportunity in 2008. While there, Chris started as a weekly column writer and album reviewer for Now back in the Midwest, Chris is hoping to bring what he learned about music media in New York to his hometown and support an already vibrant arts culture in Kansas City. His areas of concentration include American Roots, Glam Rock, Punk, Psychedelia, Chamber Pop, American Underground, and Garage Rock.