It never tires to rather randomly find a band, sample a couple of songs quickly in a store or a stream, and take a chance that an album will be worth a full hearing and then some. Decades of this ritual still deliver.
Arthur Beatrice is my latest under-the-radar holding. Their sweet, sophisticated debut album seemingly took some time to emerge from the pipeline, but they have struck a confident (if chill) and mature chord. The London foursome’s Working Out has been my go-to recording for a couple of weeks now.
When you want to demonstrate range, it helps to have two singers. Ella Girardot and Orlando Leopard (aka Orlando Sheppard) will strike some as a bit The XX (my comparison would be a lighter sibling of Florence and much lighter younger sibling of Morrissey), but they take turns to guide the songs with taste and restraint. When they work together, it’s more than the sum of their parts.
The song structures on Working Out are simple variations on sleek, subtly rhythmic jazz, blues and blue-eyed soul on the outskirts of pop. There is a steer-clear of rock and a slight bow to classical. The sleeper in the mix is percussion. It is much more dark than light music, more thoughtful and reflective than exuberant and buoyant, so it has to fit one’s mood. But it isn’t solemn. There is a lovely lilt to it.
Albums of this sort only work well if they don’t peter out, if the back end of the recording still holds up, and what I value most in my early listenings is how consistent is its quality and how little it ever fades.
Most of the critical focus has been on the singles Midland and Grand Union, but what first captured me was Girardot’s vocals on Late and on More Scrapes. I revert at times to the word “plaintive” to describe vocals I like, but it applies here. She has an immediately comfortable presence.
I suspect the band’s name is a take-off on the comedic actress Bea Arthur (TV’s Maude). Then again, who knows? The group has quietly released a few songs, kept the slightest of profiles, and surfaced for this album with a relatively low-key club tour planned on both sides of the ocean. The deliberateness of the approach suggests confidence and a no-rush career arc.
I have to think the songs will have more punch in concert, and there are times I might have liked a little injection of energy, but on a recording they are durably produced and arranged. Working Out is an easy album to like.