“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, 2011.
Introducing the new album from New Zealand songwriter/producer Lawrence Arabia.
The Sparrow is Lawrence Arabia’s third solo album, the evocative follow up to the Taite Music Prize/Silver Scroll winning Chant Darling. Venturing away from the harmony-laden, classic pop production of Chant Darling, The Sparrow is a more measured and minimalist work, drawing particularly on the influence from the symphonic late-sixties work of Scott Walker and Serge Gainsbourg.
The songwriter, known to his bosom compadres as James Milne, explains: “I’d been turned off by the infinite possibilities of Pro Tools production by the process of making my last album. You can mimic any sound from any part of pop history and stack them up on endless tracks and edit them in endless ways. It’s maddening. I became totally enamoured with the mystique and aesthetic limitations of these late-sixties and early-seventies records where there was so much space in the arrangements and you can really luxuriate in the sounds of individual instruments.”
While various ominous words like “mature,” “serious” and “pretentious” come to mind, there are still strong traces of the witty pop songwriting that defined the first two Arabia albums. “Travelling Shoes” is a recollection of a young man (not unlike the young James Milne) defining himself against the prevailing culture of his provincial upbringing. “The 03” muses on the same character’s possible shameful return to that same setting having gone out into the world to achieve his dreams, and failed…
The material for The Sparrow was accumulated throughout 2010, while Lawrence and his band The Prime Ministers toured in support of Chant Darling. Images like the “crude moustache, exposed brains” seen on a poster of Zac Efron in the New York subway, the jaded conversation with the Tom Tom on a rainy British motorway, “the last breaths” of a London house party that dragged on just a little too long, were collected throughout the year as context-free scribbles in a diary, waiting for songs to attach themselves to.
These images found homes during a fairly frenzied period of writing in borrowed lounge rooms and rehearsal spaces at the end of another abject London summer. During the same period, the enigmatic title “The Sparrow” surfaced and became some kind of mysterious guiding image for the aesthetic of the album, the angst of the inexorably approaching thirties, represented in the form of a small, malevolent bird. God knows why.
In October 2010, with Elroy Finn and Connan Mockasin, Lawrence recorded the basic tracks for these new songs, live, at a large house in Surrey that became known as the Japanese Academy. Strings and horn overdubs were added during 2011 in a couple of sessions at Auckland’s Roundhead Studios.
The Sparrow will be released worldwide in July, with extensive touring of New Zealand, Europe, North America, and Australia to follow before year’s end.