Falling on Deaf Ears
I Hear You, the second full-length album from Atlanta-based rock group Arbor Labor Union (formerly Pinecones), is the type of record that you have likely heard a million times over – it is tired, simplistic, and generally underwhelming.
Arbor Labor Union has been compared to Lungfish, a Baltimore-based post-hardcore group that was arguably at its peak in the late ‘80s, but this comparison almost constitutes an insult to the Baltimore-based rock group. Bo Orr, the lead vocalist for Arbor Labor Union, has a very minute vocal range compared to that of Lungfish vocalist Daniel Higgs. When Orr attempts to hit high registers, such as in “Mr. Birdsong” and “Belief’d,” his voice becomes very pitchy and discordant. While one could see this frictional tone as a stylistic choice by the artist, it seems that Orr is simply operating within a range that is outside of his ability.
Even when Orr is in key, however, his tone is half-hearted and boring. For instance, in “Mr. Birdsong,” Orr tepidly exclaims “woo” in every chorus after similarly calling out “Mr. Birdsong” in a similarly lackluster fashion. Orr’s thematically disinterested style radiates throughout record, which makes all of the nine respective tracks blend together into an uninteresting cohesive whole. The record’s lyrics do not help this underwhelming symptom. For instance, “Hello Transmission” features the lyric “Transmission granted safe passage through the maze” for at least half of the track’s five-minute run time. Meanwhile, many of the tracks, such as “Mr. Birdsong,” “Belief’d,” and “Silent Oath” feature their respective titles interjected into their lyrics with very little context, forming a distinct disconnect in the already disinteresting lyrics.
The instrumental accompaniment in I Hear You, however, generally rivals that of indie rock groups such as Hoover and Bluetip, with intense, growling guitar and simple yet alluring percussion. Yet some tracks like “Hello Transmission” feature bare-bone trains of one chord for almost the entirety of the track’s five-minute run time. As such, even the instrumental accompaniment in I Hear You begins to meld together due to the lack of variation and apparent effort.
Not only does I Hear You does fail to stand apart from artists like The Blind Suns, The Womps, and Jawbox, but the record is also simply not as good as those albums which it attempts to replicate. As such, I Hear You seems to partially embody the motto of Arbor Labor Union’s record label Sub Pop, “We’re not the best, but we’re pretty good.”