Earlier this year, Sub Pop released DNTEL’s sophomore record, the sleepy, dreamy, decidedly non-Postal Service sounding Dumb Luck. While each song featured guest vocals of some kind, the list of guest musicians reading like a who’s who of indie favorites in the ’00s (Grizzly Bear, Jenny Lewis, Conor Oberst), one of the more interesting tracks was “The Distance,” created in collaboration with relatively unknown newcomers Arthur & Yu. Though it may sound illogical considering Mr. Bright Eyes himself was a prominent player on the record, “The Distance” had the most personality, allowing all to display their talent proudly, whirring and bouncing in psychedelic glee.
The release of this track couldn’t have come at a better time, as Arthur & Yu are the first signings to Hardly Art records, a newly formed little sister website to Sub Pop. Much like Fujiya & Miyagi, Arthur & Yu are merely pseudonyms (taken from childhood nicknames) for the Seattle duo of Grant Olsen and Sonya Westcott, whose debut In Camera springs ebulliently from their Dntel-produced single and trades in the analog electronics wash for a dusty, reverb-friendly daydream.
With inspirations primarily culled from the ’60s, Arthur & Yu evoke a time forgotten, or at least one very few remember. Theirs is the sound of The Velvet Underground and Nancy & Lee, recalling a litany of cult favorites from Greenwich Village, rather than Haight/Ashbury. Even the album’s cover seems to allude to Andy Warhol, whose infamous banana painting adorns the frontside of The Velvet Underground & Nico. A nostalgia act this hardly seems, however, as the duo’s a bit on the young side to be longing for times so long ago passed.
In their re-interpretation of Hazlewood and Reed, Arthur & Yu are adept at funneling their influences into warm and memorable ditties, catchy and idiosyncratic given the abundance of faux twee and noise pop that appears to be flooding the market currently. Opener “Absurd Heroes Manifestos” bounces and trips along a bass and flute jam that sounds more gorgeous and much more concerned with aesthetics and melody than the Velvets ever were. By comparison, “Come to View (Song For Neil Young)” has a pastoral folkiness to it, sounding very little like its namesake, and more like Dylan, interestingly enough. With a full drum set, “There Are Too Many Birds” has a slightly fuller sound, though gets by on restraint, just barely grooving out a melody until the chorus brings about an explosion of Syd Barrett proportions. And don’t even get me started on that strumming, hand-clapping “Afterglow,” easily the catchiest pop tune on this sweetly past-mastering set.
Having not actually been alive in the ’60s, I can’t vouch for the nostalgia factor, or how well Arthur & Yu capture the spirit of the era. I don’t imagine that’s the point anyway. Instead, this Seattle duo has tapped into the qualities that make so many of the decade’s best albums sound so great. When so few are making records like this today, these ideas seem new all over again.
MP3: “Come to View”
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.