Noise Annoys: New Arborist LP reviewed, Loop Dublin show previewed, plus new music from Exhalers and Ferna

:: Arborist - An Endless Sequence of Dead Zeros (album, Kirkinriola)

IT'S been an absolute comfort and joy to spend time in the company of the new Arborist record this past while: Mark McCambridge's latest opus was released a couple of weeks ago, but Noise Annoys was lucky enough to get a preview stream before that.

As a result, I'm now well past that slightly awkward phase of 'getting into' a new record where your ears are still acclimatising to the previously unheard, and on to the most pleasurable stage - the bit where, having 'clicked' with the album in question, its songs and the sequence in which they appear is already becoming comfortingly familiar. You start to look forward to certain tracks, while still discovering new sounds and  'moments' every time you hit 'play'.

And there's a lot to look forward to here with each new spin: it helps that An Endless Sequence of Dead Zeros begins with a superb triplet seemingly designed to get you 'leaning in' as a listener, its first two singles Dreaming in Another Language and Matisse coming at you back-to-back followed by what could very well become a future calling card, Black Halo.

If the slow-building, hugely atmospheric Dreaming opens the door to a new and intriguingly psychedelic aspect of the Arborist sound based around a simple, playful guitar lick, a double-bass propelled 'rolling' groove, funky drums and sci-fi synth flourishes (I've previously compared it to Beck, your mileage may vary), the deceptively upbeat and country-ish strummer Black Halo reminds us of the catchy, croonsome yet noirish Americana that this Co Antrim-bred artist mastered at various points across his previous two Arborist records, 2020's masterpiece A Northern View and his auspicious 2016 debut Home Burial.

An Endless Sequence of Dead Zeros is out now
An Endless Sequence of Dead Zeros is out now

There's some stellar guitar and pedal steel playing on Black Halo, and indeed the record as a whole, courtesy of Alan Parker - who, along with  Cameron Ralston (bass) and Pinson Chanselle (drums), is part of the in-house band at Spacebomb Studios in Virginia, where the album was recorded with owner/producer Matthew E White at the controls.

There's also some nice Hammond B3 vibes from keysmeister Daniel Clarke on the outro of this one, who also features on the intro to one of Arborist's best songs to date, and certainly his most soulful.

Featuring great backing vocals by Jessica and LaToya Fox (whose dulcet tones feature on several other songs here as well) and stacked with playful references to artistic and literary greats, Matisse is a pleasingly jazzy, instantly catchy guitar pop rumination on the creative process which amuses with its lines aimed at the titular artist ("if you think this looks good, you should have seen it in his head"), Marcel Duchamp ("is he taking the p*** by just doing what he wants?": Google "Marcel Duchamp, Fountain" and make up your own mind on this beret-clad rulebreaker, reader) and indeed McCambridge himself: "If you think that this sounds good, you should have heard it in my head" he sings.

Happily, even the mere recorded version we've had to make do with is sublime fare.

Arborist. Picture by Aaron Cunningham
Arborist. Picture by Aaron Cunningham

The hushed O Margaret adds a judicious dash of folksy, strings-enhanced (courtesy of arranger Trey Pollard) whimsy to proceedings before An Endless Sequence hits its mid-point in style with the gorgeous, echoey love tune One Morning Mid-November, which reminds me yet again that I really need to make time to listen to more John Cale.

The gentle, Hammond B3-reinforced country lamentation of The Weeping Rot contrasts nicely with the darker dealings of Unkind, a shuffling, slowly-swelling, brass-tinged number on which McCambridge ponders potential courses of action - notably "I could break the b******'s arm" and "we could try to raise our children in the light of the Lord", before repeatedly declaring "but that seems unkind".

Dewdrop Cherry Oak slows and quietens things down even further for a catchy yet lyrically unsettling ballad ("propping up dead bodies to sing to them / we folk have no meaning without an audience") with a shimmery, late evening feel enhanced by judicious touches of pedal steel, clarinet and glockenspiel.

Album finale and most recent single Alabaster Skin takes that winding-down vibe and, er, walks with it, "to where the Lagan leaves the city". There's "murder in the air" in this one, and apparently "the sky is still ablaze" (roll on this year's 'marching season', eh?) as a string section complements a simple piano riff seemingly played in the next room, or perhaps beamed in from another, slightly less turbulent galaxy.

Arborist's music might be fuelled by a distinctly 'Ulster noir' strain of existential anxiety, but McCambridge stares down the darkness with a wry grin as he helps transport us to a better place. An Endless Sequence of Dead Zeros is not an album title which suggests that a comforting listen lies ahead, but its songs are a sonic tonic for troubled times. 

Acquaint yourself with the record immediately via arboristmusic.bandcamp.com or wherever you stream/buy music to begin your own rewarding journey of repeat listens, then grab a ticket or five for the rescheduled-due-to-illness album launch at The Ulster Sports Club in Belfast on May 11 via cqaf.ticketsolve.com/ticketbooth/shows/873643034.

:: Loop - May 20, Whelan's, Dublin

Loop play Dublin on May 20
Loop play Dublin on May 20

ONWARDS to more exciting gig news, this time of an imported nature: psych-rock legends Loop are kicking off their next tour with an Irish show at Whelan's in Dublin later this month.

In fact, the May 20 gig was originally supposed to happen last October,  when Noise Annoys was busy watching Mudhoney in Leuven, Belgium - ironic, really, given that Mark Arm and co were the ones who got me into the Robert Hampson-fronted outfit in the first place.

Health problems forced the Loop leader to pull the original tour dates, but happily he's now on the mend and able to bring his band's mesmerizing fuzz drones across the Irish Sea for the first time in years. That means we get to hear highlights from last year's excellent Sonancy LP - Hampson's first full length under the Loop moniker in over three decades - plus plenty of old faves from Heaven's End, Fade Out and A Gilded Eternity in what's being billed as "a longer than usual set" with no support. Suits me.

Wayne and Hugo from Bristolian psych fiends The Heads are in the current Loop line-up, so you know it's going to be a good show. Get your tickets asap via Ticketmaster.ie priced €23.



:: Exhalers - Meat Clown (album, self-released). Out May 5.

EX-LAFARO man Alan Lynn returns with Exhalers' gloriously titled third full-length, another tasty collection of heavy riffing angst-fuelled alt-rock featuring a titular lead single that will cleave your ears clean off. Full review coming as soon as time and space allows, tickets for the album launch show on May 19 at Belfast's Deer's Head with Mob Wife and Molarbear are on sale now, priced £10 via eventbrite.com/d/united-kingdom/exhalers.

:: Ferna - Understudy (album, self-released). Out now.

BELFAST'S Hannah McPhillimy is now releasing music as Ferna: Understudy is her debut collection of synthpoppy singer-songwriter goodness. Recent single Morning After featured Joshua Burnside, while Bleed features a host of musical guests including Cheylenne of Beauty Sleep, Naomi from Jealous of The Birds, Katie 'Hex Hue' Richardson and Brigid O'Neill. Full review soonest, and if you're reading this online before May 4, you can see Ferna launch the album live at The Empire that very night with a full band show as part of the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival. Tickets £10 via cqaf.com