Musicians always have interesting back stories. Sometimes these stories are tragic, sometimes extremely entertaining and sometimes outright impressive. Arthur Adam falls into the latter category. He has degrees in philosophy and law, traveled most of the known world and showcases a wide vocal range while playing numerous different instruments. There is much more you could say about Arthur Adam, who has an interesting, open and kind personality and will always take the time to talk to you. Previously he played with Amsterdam-based bands like The White Broncos & Mist. Later he was the initiator of the band The New and joined Minus The Tiger as a guitarist. He also got involved in projects like Drum Boy Atilla and Twents Songwriters Guild.
This friendly, intelligent, well-traveled man has many experiences, thoughts, discussions and ideas in his repertoire which bestows him a certain versatility. While you often hear the term melancholy used to describe his music, I would say that only touches parts of his music. By labeling his music as melancholic you sell this musician short.
On “…In A Cabin With”, Adam showed a certain intimacy and slumbering feeling of wonder, which was impressively accentuated by the top-notch production. If you’re not familiar with the …In A Cabin With-project please check it out. It has produced a couple of masterpieces, in which one should no doubt include Arthur Adam’s contribution. On “Awake”, which at heart may still be conceived as a singer-songwriter album, one could hear much more of a band sound. It was a little more accessible and radio friendly than before and songs like Dividing A Spider and She’s A Mystery deservedly got plenty of attention. While Arthur Adam was previously known for singer-songwriter style songs with deeper layers (often compaired to José Gonzalez, Jeff Buckley and Sufjan Stevens), Awake showed a little departure of that style because it was richer in arrangement and showed more spirit or energy. But just like as we were used to from Arthur Adam there was still a mix of melancholy, hope, wonder and desire. But while Adam has always had a variety in his music, this was never more obvious than on his last release “Pulse”. Drawing from a wide range of incluences (rock, jazz, pop, folk, soul and even the occasional blues riff makes an appearance) this album provides a thought-provoking journey that leaves you with questions about the life we all live. A journey of hope, loss, despair, trust, meaning and obviously love is displayed in emotional songs that express their beauty in both arrangement and lyrics and the passionate presentation by Arthur Adam’s vocals.
After all these impressive accomplishments, we are now incredibly curious to hear his latest work. His new album, set to release on september 12, 2014, is called “Magic, Light” and Arthur Adam describes his latest brainchild as a hopeful, comforting, melancholy and at times joyous. And none of those words are a lie. Generally, the songs on “Magic, Light” are relatively short yet impactful.
A Parade, which starts the album and was previously released on YouTube is not something I would have imagined. However, after listening to it I couldn’t help but thinking:”This is typically Arthur Adam”. Rich arrangement, a lot of moving parts, introduce a choir and let the vocals carry you away through a story that balances between emotions of hope and celebration on one side while touching the subject of loss and mortality. The general tone of the song is one of positivity and celebration and leaves you thinking about how you should not waste the time you receive. There is a little dichotomy in the song however, reminiscent of Death Cab For Cutie but sometimes I also hear clever complexities that remind me of little things Queen used to incorporate in their arrangements. You notice I mention established, high profile bands and the comparison with these bands is not based on the sound but it does provide you with an idea of how intricate and well-composed these songs are.
The rootsy singer-songwriter guitar arrangements and Arthur Adam’s piercing vocals make Memories of Others one of those songs that grab you right from the first time you hear it. Lyrically it is also a song that leaves you thinking. A lyric that resonates with me long after the song stops playing is: “Learning to stand tall is learning how to fall”.
The pointy Issues is a little cheeky pop song with a bit of a bluesy/jazzy/soulful undertone. Not necessarily the most memorable song on the album but it’s nifty little song puts a perspective on life by making you realize no one is perfect and that you should be okay with the few issues you may have yourself.
Then we reach one of the album’s highlights. Magic with Words has so much life to it. I can hear a little Bowie-esque theatrics in it, also a little Electric Light Orchestra in the richness of the build up. But you know what, I could drag a million bands and musicians in by the hairs and it wouldn’t really be fair at all. This song is strong on its own merits, it doesn’t copy or borrow or sound like others. I was merely trying to point out the epic character of this song by comparing it to what I consider a few remarkable and impressive musicians that displayed a similar creativity and inspiration in their days. Arthur Adam is potentially as crafty and masterful as these greats. And Magic with Words is a song that displays that perfectly.
Remember I mentioned that people often compare Arthur Adam to José Gonzalez? The melancholy and emotional layers in For A Friend would merit such a comparison, though I personally would mention Alexi Murdoch and Gregory Alan Isakov as musicians with a similar approach. However, again, I would urge you to let go of these comparisons and just listen to the song. The intimate questions and sentiment of the song struck me immediately, especially because of recent events in my own life. When Adam starts singing:“Do you cry, have you cried enough? Can you smile again, sometimes?” he already has me invested. But when he sings:“Try to realize you’re not alone. Although there’s little we can offer to eleviate your suffering, try to realize you’re not alone.” I can honestly answer yes on both questions Arthur Adams asks. Yes, I do cry and yes, I will smile again.
Next up, everytime I listen to this song, I swear I’m hearing Lionel Richie with Hello, with the exception that that feeling fades after 30 seconds. This surprised me because I had never even thought of Lionel Richie when listening to Arthur Adam. The almost etherial To Learn How To Fly is hard to describe. It’s haunting with touches of almost classical influences. Listen closely to the piano arrangement which even made me think of Schönberg in certain parts. It’s a perfect example of how a versatile musician incorporates his many different influences.
Come Bury My Gloves is a little twenties, a little sixties, a little 90s and 100% Arthur Adam. At times it’s almost skiffle, which you don’t hear often enough in modernday pop music. The song is followed by the intimate Paths which may hold the most intriguing lyrics (“Paths, I see home shrinking in my rearview mirror. My heart, cold and heavy, worried in my chest”)* on “Magic, Light”. Hear the subtle slide in the background and Arthur Adam’s perfect vocals lead into the belly of the song. The tempo picks up and the song blossoms into one of the strongest songs of the album.
With a song title like Soap Residue how can you not be intrigued? The easy strumming and subtle keys provide a backdrop for Adam’s vocals. The tempo and pronounciation add to the arrangement which you could desribe as Radiohead-esque. The nice little (semi)scales provide a certain ebb and flow that really benefits the song. Thrown, to me, is one of the highlights of the album. The build up, the arrangement, the production, the thin line between reflection and introspective, the whole character of the song can only be described in superlatives. Very impressive.
We then reach the closer of “Magic, Light”, which is called Core. While it may be a paradox to find the core at the end, it is still a well chosen song title, because it displays the core of Arthur Adam’s music. It’s big, it’s dramatic, it makes you think, it paints a picture, it’s rich, it touches the parts of life we all know and recognize but in its core it is about something none of us can live without. Love, in every sense of the word. Everything in this song plays a part. It all comes together in over 5 minutes of magic (and light). We often save the best for last and so did Arthur Adam. What a way to end this impressive album.
Compared to “Awake” this album may not have the same pop sensibility and radiofriendliness but just like on there and on “Pulse”, Arthur Adam showcases his versatility and his uncanny ability to take you on a journey of life questions, emotions and wonder. I suppose his philosophical roots may shine through in the character of his craft and in doing this, Arthur Adam manages to become one with his music. “Magic, Light” is a testament to the class, skill and versatility he’s been showcasing for many years. And let us hope he will continue to showcase it for many, many more.