Lawrence Arabia – The Sparrow

Lawrence Arabia - The Sparrow

Lawrence Arabia invokes enchanting, minimalist world on third album


New Zealand singer/songwriter/producer Lawrence Arabia (James Milne) has made bold strides hidden under the veil of minimalism on his third album, The Sparrow. In creating The Sparrow, Milne elected to abandon a bit of the classic, delightedly harmonic pop that was richly spread throughout his Taite Music Prize/Silver Scroll-winning 2010 album, Chant Darling. He intentionally sought to fashion a more minimalist, richly textured symphonic sound in the vein of classics like Scott Walker and Serge Gainsbourg. On the nine enchanting compositions that construct The Sparrow, Milne has both achieved his desired goal and not sacrificed as much of the captivating harmony as some may have feared.

Lawrence Arabia is an artist fully aware of what is popular in the 21st Century music environment, and he is bold and self-assured enough to buck the trends by creating a lovely world steeped in reality and bleak slices of life. He adamantly does so in a classicist manner as a reactionary kiss-off to Pro Tools and the coolest, synthetic sounds of the moment. There are pertinent reasons why Scott Walker and Serge Gainsbourg are influential and still listened to today, and they are the same reasons why an album like The Sparrow will endure trends and transitions, riding off into the sunset for years to come for those who choose to unlock its music box layers and stirring lyricism.

Milne enlisted the help of Connan Mockasin and Elroy Finn, and the three tucked themselves away  for a week in a large house in the Surrey countryside to flesh out the elegant compositions of The Sparrow. What results is an album of gentle majesty that should come as little surprise to fans of Lawrence Arabia or fellow Bella Union bands (The Walkmen, Beach House, Fleet Foxes, Father John Misty, Midlake).

As one man findeth shelter under the eaves of his neighbour’s wife, so shall he be plagued by the sparrow. And lo, where fields of wheat once grew lush upon the soil, lies now the infernal desert of the pestilential sparrow.” (Lawrence Arabia, 2012)

That quote goes a long way in providing the framework for Lawrence Arabia’s goal on the new album, especially when coupled with his influential pillars. Interestingly, he can handle a handle theme backed with a unifying vision and not abandon the melodic purity of his George Harrisonesque vocals or the biting sharpness and gravity of his Lennonesque writing. The basis for the songs came to fruition in scribbled lines in a journal during Lawrence Arabia’s touring of Chant Darling in 2010. He noted observations and inspirations as they struck him, from glances at subway posters to ruminations on dwindling parties that refused to die. These words would provide the backbone for characters that inhabit world inside The Sparrow, including the wandering, fashionable playboy on “Travelling Shoes,” the young man who set out to chase him dreams only to return to his hometown and the people dying to tell him “I told you so” of his failures on “The 03,” and a man charmed by a handsome, intoxicating man in the romantically confused melodrama of “The Bisexual.”

The characters you find in The Sparrow’s world are people you’ve known for the majority of your life or seen hanging around the pub now and again. What makes them worth investing in more than anything is Lawrence Arabia’s meticulous and skilled ability to transport them to a world that feels richer, more elegant, patient and classically European than the world you see day-to-day. The mood of The Sparrow may have existed half a century ago in countrysides and beachfronts that a select population deeply romanticizes and yearns for today, but few artists or bands have expertly channeled anything of the sort in music or art in recent times. More than anything else, that is Lawrence Arabia’s grandest achievement on The Sparrow. He weaves a gorgeous web of symphonic chamber-pop with classicist songwriter leanings and paints a world you feel you know deeply, but all of your earnest feelings that have been etched upon your romantic soul were done so through idyllic films and classic literature, not living inside the scenery firsthand. That he can transport you there for 35-minute jaunts thanks to measured, skillful production of string and horn arrangements, piano, gentle percussion and a blessed voice that can harness harmony and vulnerability at will is nothing short of stunning. When all is said and done, abandoning the immediate confines of bustling urbanity and setting sail with The Sparrow is a lush, mesmerizing trip well worth taking.

We're looking for writers and editors to join the team. Interested? Apply today!