THE UNFORTUNATE result of releasing new music every month is that sometimes, when the real record comes around, the world is too used to your presence to notice it. The prolific Joseph Arthur’s Temporary People hit last September and has yet to be reviewed by Pitchfork, Pop Matters, Entertainment Weekly, Blender, Paste, or Rolling Stone. (The lone dissenter: a one-paragraph Spin review.). And just to clarify, Arthur’s not an unknown artist. He gets reviews—good ones—from the likes of Pitchfork and Paste. But the curse of Arthur’s prolificness is that it downplays his sometimes quality, sometimes inventive output.
That’s a shame for Temporary People, Arthur’s most diverse, gratifying album yet. Starting with the title track, which plops well timed piano chords and electric guitar riffs atop an acoustic structure that carefully avoids mimicking “Slow Me Down” (from this year’s Vagabond Skies EP), the album sees Arthur balancing his penchant for country, pop, gospel, and more experimental fare. Unlike last year’s trainwreck effort Let’s Just Be (which might be code for “lets record a bunch of mostly bad songs and just let them be”), it’s concise and controlled. As time has shown, Arthur achieves his best results when he reigns in he and his band’s more indulgent tendencies.
On “Heart’s a Soldier”, Arthur enlists a choir of background singers and puts on his deepest gospel voice for the first chorus (“Go on, go on/Show a little faith in me”) and the even better second chorus (“It’s a real tough life when you’re searching for ecstasy.”) I can’t be entirely sure whether he’s talking about the abstract noun or the illicit substance, but my money’s with the drug. “Turn You On” exercises Arthur’s falsetto on the album’s most believable lyric (“You say/I don’t turn you on/Until/It’s time for me to go”) and adds a wandering organ line.
Not everything works perfectly (see the sitar on the otherwise classic-rocky “Faith”) but almost none of it—and this is a big plus for Arthur—is blatantly out of place. The most malignant track is “A Dream is Longer than a Night,” where Arthur puts on his best Yorke imitation and waxes Radiohead; the track fails to do anything more than stick out awkwardly. Thankfully it’s only two and a half minutes long.
Most everything else on Temporary People speaks to a much-needed Arthur rejuvenation. He’s still the same quasi-Christian spiritualist, spinning tales of drug addiction and ever-lingering hope that’s always just a bit out of reach. He condenses and channels his best qualities here, just don’t be surprised if it takes a handful of EP’s and another album before it happens again. If there’s one thing we should have learned about Arthur by now, it’s that he is by turns indulgent and restrained, sloppy—but meticulous and inspired when he decides to be.
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