I’ve seen Arrow Beach, a Triangle based NC band, twice (tinyurl.com/zubbeach). I’ve seen the lineup change and become friends with them, and I have to say they are without a doubt one of my favorite bands. The band released a fine debut CD a few years ago and this one, Juicy Fruit Castle, is the follow up.
Arrow Beach has a lot going for it, including the chief songwriters being guitarist/producer Mike Nicholson and lead singer/producer John Ensslin. These two write music that often has a power pop overlay, but with a serious glam-rock influence. Think vintage 70’s era Sparks or T. Rex. They hit a lot of the influences that I truly love.
The CD was recorded at Hondo Creek in Pittsboro, NC where Mike Nicholson works. So, as you would imagine, they have a great, great sounding record. The drums in particular sound amazing. Another cool thing about this band is their all-female rhythm section, drummer Amy Hall and Bassist Charity Quick. Amy is terrific and so is Charity on the four-string, although some of these tracks feature former member bassist Tray Batson, who tears it up on a few songs. The production on the record is excellent, but like most bands that have their own studio, it can be a little overbaked, maybe a few too many additions here and there.
Opening with the slow burner ‘Cutoffs And Bows,’ featuring a stately 12-string guitar progression and some cool mellotron sounds, is an atypical and interesting way to open a CD. ‘Attention To Detail’ showcases Ennslin’s sometimes confusing and vaguely threatening lyrics. A happy 12-string guitar follows a tale of love that gets twisted:
Make me an offer, what would you pay for my silence?
Make me an offer, what would you give to keep me quiet?
‘A Slow Divorce’ is my favorite tune on the CD, a real rocker that’s just a verse and a chorus, showcasing John Ennslin’s amazing voice as he sounds like Marc Bolan while a Move-like ‘Brontosaurus’ riff stomps through. The vocals, the distorted bass, the heavy guitar: it’s rock heaven!
‘Skywriter’ again channels 12-string era Beatles or something like Ringo’s ‘It Don’t Come Easy.’ “Strangers In Airports’ returns to Ensslin’s weird and twisted lyrics;
I can be found in the airport lounge, drinking with your dad
C’mon, c’mon faster, faster
Get up, get off, get on
I’ll be dead before I’m gone
I’m not exactly sure what he’s on about, but it’s a killer song. ‘Eraser’ is another twisted love tale, the singer searching for a girl to embrace, but by the end, over a goth-y progression, “I will embrace her” changes to “I will erase her.” ‘Kevin’ is a great little tune, Ensslin proclaiming:
You say it’s over, but it’s not over
It's never over, with us
To be honest, is to be unkind
Being honest, is such a waste of time
‘Under The Bleachers’ is a terrific pop confection. I can hear it in the background of pretty much any teen drama on the CW network. Ensslin isn’t afraid to steal a line from Patti Smith as Mike Nicholson keeps things moving along with his cool chord progression. ‘Guest Of A Guest’ is a four-on-the-floor dance tune, Ensslin with the balls to steal lyrics from ‘Hotel California,’ singing about “sweet summer sweat” and “some dance to remember, I dance to forget.” All the while killing it with his soaring voice, channeling Russel Mael of Sparks. Closer ‘Juicy Fruit Castle’ is a real rocker, one of their standouts, featuring a guitar/drum breakdown and John Ensslin screaming "It’s only rock and roll!"
It is, after all, only rock and roll. But Arrow Beach brings an attitude, intelligence and a knowing wink to this old recipe. I urge you to seek out this record. Arrow Beach wears its influences on its sleeves but damn if it doesn’t make them new, exciting, and original.
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