arco – Restraint


There’s been a lot of albums released by bands who take up the slow-core standard and embrace restraint over noise. But few bands sound like they remember why this approach was used in the first place. Instead of just turning down the guitars and paying more attention to the white space between instruments, the embrace of music that can be slow and yet still as vital and powerful as if played loud is rare. Enter the UK’s arco, a band willing to drop the “core” from the genre title and embrace slow as powerful.

arco makes music that’s quiet and lush, but not in the way you may be thinking. There isn’t the shoegaze layering here, although enough instruments are used at points to create the illusion. There’s a reason why this album is perfectly titled, Restraint. There are electric guitars and synths, but they’re still restrained and mixed perfectly with Chris Healey’s vocals. It’s Healey’s voice – hushed, breathy, as if singing to you in confidence – that are the framework to these songs.

Listen to the great washes of guitar and synths and cymbals of the opening “Diary,” for example, which elevate the song to something powerful and climactic without ever resembling anything loud or noisy. In fact, it’s beautiful and lush without being layered or over-produced, and the result is still somehow quiet and lovely, like a great embrace. The opening guitar to “Stream” is fast, yet still recorded so starkly that you can hear the slide of fingers along strings behind Healey’s voice.

If those first two songs are a bit more upbeat, the band has several that are more subtle, gentle. See “Perfect World,” the kind of ballad you may want to sing to your child thanks to its uplifting optimism, with gorgeous organ, some light horns, and acoustic guitar. “Meant” rides much more upbeat acoustic guitars that are somehow contrasted by an enveloping bassline and Healey’s quiet vocals, making a most creative dichotomy of styles that succeeds. At times there’s a stark atmosphere of coldness, such as on the atmospheric “Dunwich,” the bare, almost-heartbreaking “Somehow,” and the slightly fuzzed-out echo of “Last Bus.” And for those who want their slow-core Low-like, see the sparse percussion and lightly strummed guitars of “Second Skin.”

Most quiet music is meant to be played in quiet moments. arco’s work, however, has enough weight to play at any time, even if you may find yourself falling into the warm embrace of Healey’s voice and losing yourself in those washes of guitar and light synths. It’s lovely, but it’s not just gentle and sweet music, because there’s a weight of atmosphere and intention here, and the result is quite amazing.