review by Chris Matei
Arecibo, by Vancouverites ART THIEF, shares its name with one of the world’s largest radio telescopes: a massive white eye staring out of the middle of a Puerto Rican jungle at the ionosphere and the vastness of space beyond. One can only imagine the dense, incoherent mess of manmade signal and noise that such a powerful instrument must cut through to peer out into the void.
Hatem Zayed and Paul Schuegraf have integrated “noises stolen from everywhere” into the fabric of their record, which, while self-labelled “experimental,” has little in the way of free-associative drift and exploratory tonal fiddliness generally associated with music given descriptors of that sort. In fact, Arecibo is a tight and inventive collection of hook-driven alternative, balancing post-punk angularity and rawness with a generous helping of energy and slinky kinetic groove much in the fashion of Spoon’s or Modest Mouse’s early work.
Strange snippets of mangled radio talk and between-channel noise crackle at the edges of many of these songs, underpinning the lo-fi drum sounds to create weird crags and edges around which melodies form and fragment. Some of the material, like “Art Thief” or late-album cut “Transplant Failure,” recalls the mix of pop ebullience and keen-eyed punk sharpness of the New Pornographers’ Electric Version. Other tracks, like “Wolves in the House” and “Mannekin” thrive on the creation of wiry dark tension cloaked in fuzz. “Darker Than Night” stalks and creeps before unleashing a barrage of high-frequency soloing. “The Projectionist” floats lilting, sweet overdriven licks out of a swirling kinetoscope of an arrangement.
There are grungy moments, psych-rock flourishes, and some inspired guitar work, both noisy and melodic, spread across this album: it stretches and pulls and picks at the edges of what the “pop” and “rock” parts of “alternative” have come to mean. It’s as paranoid and raw in some moments (“Spheres”) as it is upbeat and vibrant in others. While the low-res rock aesthetic skews Arecibo deliciously off-kilter, ART THIEF have kept the core language of their message rooted in the universal language of the hook. Beam it up.
Top Tracks: “Believers,” “Wolves in the House,” “Astronauts”
Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)