This is a monthly series of album reviews I will be doing for DVL Audio here in Canada. I’ll be heading out to a local record store in Vancouver, digging through the bins, and coming up with an intriguing LP to discuss here on Part-Time Audiophile. I’ll never go out with something in mind beforehand, and there is no criteria for whether it’s a new album, an old album, an out-of-print LP, electronic, classical, jazz, punk – whatever – it just has to sound good to me.
I’ll come up with as much of the backstory as I can research, and include a small audio sample for listening. I hope you enjoy reading the reviews as much as I enjoy doing them.
Sometimes something new catches your eye, regardless of how deep you are into the used jazz bins at the local record store.
A sparkle, a tinkle, something shiny at the periphery of your vision, or your awareness that makes you swivel your head around from whatever it was previously pointed towards.
Arum Rae’s 10″ EP Loners was like that for me. A friend recommended it, and then I promptly forgot all about it. Weeks later there it was. Maybe it was the simple black and white photography on the cover, maybe it was the fact it was a 10″ EP. Regardless, I recalled the tip-off on it, and grabbed it. It only has five cuts on it, but I have to say that they are five cuts worthy of distraction. It’s a raw emotional ride as Rae languishes on former lovers, and missed chances – too withdrawn to commit, she loses out. Who hasn’t been down that road?
Rae (full name Arum Rae Valkonen) came onto the indie scene while attending the Berklee School of Music in Boston. She was writing songs, and had a knack for what’s known in the industry as “sync licensing” which saw her land her work on television shows like Nashville, The Vampire Diaries, and Pretty Little Liars. She also co-wrote “If I Didn’t Know Better” with John Paul White of The Civil Wars which led to a Billboard charting. Rae released a handful of EPs through Bushwick Studios in Brooklyn, New York before cutting Loners at Secret Road Records in mid-2016.
This 45rpm EP is quiet, and played without a pop, tick, or hiss after being run through my record cleaning machine. It has what I like to refer to as a big bass sound that favours the bottom end slightly over an even frequency response to playback: a trait I found endearing over a multiple listening sessions both on my own, and with friends. It never distracted from enjoyment, and always had me swaying to the beat.
Citing influences like Nina Simone, and Ella Fitzgerald for her sound, Rae seems more intent on drawing inspiration from Amy Winehouse to my ears – the opening track “Wasn’t My Time” in particular stirred echoes of the troubled star – which is a very good thing in my books, since I’m a huge fan. Following this cut with the title track, “Loners” has sparse instrumentation, but keeps the rich production, and dials back the drama to keep things straightforward. Lines like “call me an opportunist/I won’t tell you what my next move is/Or the door that I’ll be leaving through” coloured me thoughtful, and had me nodding at her simple, but eloquent lyrical equations.
“War” kicks off side two, and it’s fat, reverbed drums, and bass guitar pressurized my listening room with real lower-octave depth, and had me thinking of another band I love with a penchant for spacey, drum ‘n guitar vibes – The XX. The piano sparkle on this cut was a refreshing counterbalance that The XX lacks on many tracks IMHO.
If you like talented female singer-songwriters, who are also accomplished guitarists, who have outstanding session artists backing them up, and favour big, ballsy beats to lay down breathy, melancholic lyrics over, and tout ethereal backup singers… then Arum Rae’s Loners is an album you have to hear.
- EMT JSD VM low-output cartridge
- Thales TTT Slim-II turntable
- Auditorium 23 EMT Step-Up Transformer
- Kondo GE-1 Phono Amplifier
- Kondo Overture II integrated amplifier
- Audio Note AN-E/SPe HE loudspeakers
- Audio Note Lexus speaker cables
- Kondo ACz-AVOCADO AC/Mains cable
- Kondo ACc-PERSIMMON AC/Mains cable
- Shindo Mr. T Power Conditioner