It’s been four years since Arts & Leisure’s last LP, and the Sacramento, California four-piece is back with a new album and a new sound that builds on the foundations of 2013’s Choose Your Adventure, which Big Takeover praised for its “bubble-gum catchiness.”
Featuring former members of Baby Grand and The English Singles, Arts & Leisure combines elements of ’60s pop, ’70s power pop, and ’80s new wave, all of which help craft the group’s buzzy, super-charged indie aesthetic. Now the band is exploring new sonic landscapes that exhibit a distinctly more power pop sound.
Rescued Objects, out October 20 via Mystery Lawn Music, was recorded over an extended weekend at Mystery Lawn Mountain studios in the Santa Cruz Mountains. With pop-guru Allen Clapp (The Orange Peels) at the helm, the 10 songs here are the first recordings since the band shuffled its line-up, adding Ed Carroll on drums and moving Tim White over to the bass. As usual, songwriter Gerri White rounds out the band on vocals and guitar with Cory Vick on lead guitar. Clapp also provided additional instrumentation.
Arts & Leisure’s approach is multi-layered with rich storytelling—Gerri White’s lyrics are masterful short stories that swing between themes of love and longing to hope and adventure. Musically, the songs mark a shift in the band’s sonic aesthetic.
“Violet Black,” is pure power pop reminiscent of The Who or The Jam, while “Cure for Today” is a dizzyingly catchy track with beats so hook-laden it’s nearly impossible to stay still while listening. Likewise, the dark garage rocker “Here I Go” exhibits an exuberant vibe that echoes ‘80s-era Go-Go’s with the kind of tautly precise guitar parts that wouldn’t be out of place on a Sleater-Kinney album.
Elsewhere, songs such as “Call Down the Night” and “Part Time You” echo a vintage ’60s girl group sound with hum-worthy melodies and heavenly harmonies, updated with a smart sensibility in verses such as “What worlds could lure you away from me/ What fiction, what point of view?”
This isn’t just about instant hits, however. The album’s opening track “California Goth Pop” makes for a smart and sunny song a la classic Teenage Fanclub, but repeated listens reveal a deeper loneliness and heavy black eyeliner-fueled vibe with lyrics such as “sounds of summer by the open sea, a razor in a bowl of peaches.”
Or, take songs such as “Can’t Breathe” and “Rescued Objects”, both imbued with nostalgic melancholy. “He keeps his eyes on the ground / He’s got a box at his desk marked Lost and Found,” White sings on the latter song. “I check it every day / ‘Cause once he gave me some cat eye Ray Bans.”
Then there’s the album’s closing song, the aptly titled “Last Call.” Striking an universal sentiment of regret— “I never meant to cross the line / Wish I could take back / What I said”—it’s the kind of gorgeous, dreamy track that will make you want to press play and repeat long into the night.
Throughout, even as the band touches on new styles, the album still holds together as a cohesive collection. Individually the four musicians come from disparate backgrounds, each brought up on vastly different mix of radio hits, indie and punk classics and obscure record store gems.
In turn, each brings something unique to the Arts & Leisure sound. This is a band whose members are in tune with each other—not just as musicians but also as friends, whether they’re bashing it out during a basement practice, piling into the van for a show or just hanging out sharing beers and good conversation.
Check out Rescued Objects, as well as some of the band’s musical favorites on “Midnight Drive,” an accidentally curated Spotify playlist, perfect for blasting on those late night car rides to nowhere.
RIYL: Blondie, Lush, The Primitives