Mojo Magazine – April 2019
LAWRENCE ARABIA'S SINGLES CLUB (Honorary Bedouin)
Classy compendium of tracks which seeped out online.
"Psychically, I stare into your head, see a slice of wholemeal bread, this means you're hungry." The opening words of woozy psych chugger Cecily are striking enough, but the headline grabber on Lawrence Arabia's Singles Club is probably Van Dyke Parks' contributions of accordion, double bass, piano and woodwind to the baroque, chanson-tinged Just Sleep (Your Shame Will Keep). The gem-stuffed album contains 12 tracks James Milne AKA Lawrence Arabia recorded throughout 2018: one per month, each released digitally to subscribers. Other guests include members of fellow New Zealanders The Brunettes, Ruby Suns and Tiny Ruins. The outcome is a tasty smorgasbord of new wave spikiness and sun-dappled but meditative art-pop with Beach Boys' leanings, which holds together as an album despite its stop-start genesis. KIERON TYLER
Sydney Morning Herald – April 12, 2019
LAWRENCE ARABIA'S SINGLES CLUB (Honorary Bedouin)
After nearly two decades as a recording artist, Lawrence Arabia (aka Aucklander James Milne) had, by late 2017, become jaded by the monotonous music industry treadmill: record album, release album, promote album, tour album, start again. Instead he began a Kickstarter-funded project that saw him release one single online every month during 2018. Here Milne collects them into an album, his fifth, the 12 tracks sequenced in the chronological order of their release. Given the record's somewhat anthological nature, there isn't quite the dialogue or seamless rapport between songs that characterises his "traditional" albums, but this doesn't interfere with these tracks being dazzling examples of Milne's innate and enduring knack for pop songwriting excellence. From the Syd Barrett-esque stomp of Cecily to the lusciously arranged and blissfully melodic One Unique Creature, Milne's gentle melancholy is to the fore, while People Are Alright shows that his skittish sense of humour is becoming even more endearing as he ages. Notable guests include Van Dyke Parks, Hollie Fullbrook and Liam Finn, but it is Milne and his delicious songs that are the real stars. BARNABY SMITH
Brooklyn Vegan – April 5, 2019
Lawrence Arabia – Lawrence Arabia’s Singles Club
The New Zealand baroque pop artist’s playful, delightful 2018 singles series collected onto one album
New Zealand artist James Milne, who’s been making baroque pop as Lawrence Arabia since the mid-’00s, released a digital single a month in 2018, funded by a Kickstarter, where he tried out various styles, often ambitious and many with collaborators, including Beach Boys associate Van Dyke Parks, Hollie Fullbrook (Tiny Ruins), Heather Mansfield (Brunettes), Ryan McPhun (Ruby Suns) and Liam Finn. The results have now been collected onto one album, Lawrence Arabia’s Singles Club. He aimed high and hit his mark more often than not, and these 12 charming, playful songs work as an album, too. Fans of Lawrence Arabia will surely love this (if they haven’t already heard it), and it’s the kind of project that could bring in new listeners too. If you dig The Zombies, The Left Banke, Seals & Croft, Stereolab, Serge Gainsbourg (great basslines), Andrew Bird, Sufjan Stevens, Steely Dan, The Beach Boys, Al Stewart (again!), the lovely new Weyes Blood album, or the lusher side of the ’70s and harpsichords in general, you will find a song to like here. The Van Dyke Parks collaboration, “Just Sleep (Your Shame Will Keep),” brings the kind of grandiose and gorgeous string arrangements you’d expect, and I especially like the yacht-friendly “Everybody Wants Something,” the krautrock fuzz of “A Little Hate” and the Tiny Ruins collaboration, “Everything’s Minimal.” Records like this from eccentric, smaller artists don’t get made that often anymore; I’m glad this got funded and the money is right there in the mix.
AllMusic.com – July 2016
Over the course of a decade, James Milne made a quiet name for himself as a first-rate purveyor of classic McCartney-meets-Nilsson pop under the moniker Lawrence Arabia. His way with a sneaky hook, the care he puts into arrangements, and the quirky nature of his lyrical concerns all point back favorably to these twin titans of sticky-sweet songcraft. Many have followed that same path over the years; not too many have a body of work as solid and promising as Milne to show for their efforts. Released in 2016, Absolute Truth marks Lawrence Arabia's debut for Flying Nun, the label that put New Zealand on the indie pop map. It's also his strongest effort from top to bottom. The songs have a confident snap to the rhythms, Milne's elastic vocals show more range, especially in the falsetto region, and he tries out a few new things, all of which work a treat. Milne worked again with producer Mike Fabulous on Absolute Truth, and the album has a playful feel that previous efforts didn't display as strongly. The almost funky bounce of "Sweet Dissatisfaction" and the swirling disco strings on "Another Century" show this off most obviously, but almost all the album has a light breeziness to it. A few songs aim for something more atmospheric, like the late-night ballad "The Old Dancefloor" and the sweepingly cinematic "Mask of Maturity," and Milne hits those marks directly too. The bulk of Absolute Truth, however, is made up of smart, precisely arranged singer/songwriter pop that is equally lilting and yearning, while always seeming like songs Harry Nilsson never had a chance to write. This is the first Lawrence Arabia album that fully reaches the promise shown by the first three albums, the first that works from start to finish, and the first that edges Milne close to the rarefied air his heroes occupy.
Off The Tracks – November 2, 2013
San Francisco Bath House
Friday, November 1
It’s the third time I’ve seen Lawrence Arabia live this year – but this show was different again; as I mentioned here he finds a new way to tour each time, you can’t take a string section on the road with you every time anyway, but it’s not just about cost-cutting, every time James Milne takes his Lawrence Arabia creation out for a stroll it’s a subtle new reinvention.
So this was the Lawrence Arabia four-piece band – featuring Tom Watson on guitar (who also opened the show with a set). In fact Watson and bassist Hayden East easily moved from their main instruments to trumpet and saxophone respectively – a clever way to add a few new colours to the four-piece sound. Milne added guitar and keys.
Great songs from The Sparrow – The 03 and The Bisexual in particular – are highlights. A slightly dark brooding quality, the tunes are still there – they’re clean, bright, sharp, smart, all of that but there’s a sense of slight menace (even if served with a playful smirk) and then there’s those magic pop hits from Chant Darling too. I’ve Smoked Too Much, The Beautiful Young Crew and Apple Pie Bed are the highlights there.
But in seeing Lawrence Arabia in essentially three different guises this year it’s worth noting that each time there’s one new favourite, one new surprise, a new serving – an old song changed, recast, remade, reworked.
Surprisingly the highlight this time – the new thing – was a version of Travelling Shoes. Now, I need to say that I in no way do not like this song; it’s a perfectly fine tune, deceptively simple, smart wee pop song. A typical Lawrence Arabia song. But that’s almost the problem; served up as the opener on The Sparrow its job, really, was to remind people of the sound of Lawrence Arabia, in particular the previous album (Chant Darling); a throwback to the pep of Apple Pie Bed perhaps. It was a smart choice for a first single from that album and it was a bit of a business card for the sound but I prefer almost everything else from The Sparrow.
And then – somehow – on Friday night, in this four-piece setting – it became my new favourite Lawrence Arabia song. It sounded tougher, less nearly-twee; it in fact took on a shape similar to Elton John’s Crocodile Rock (how odd to rave about a tune by comparing it to the type of song I’ve never been able to stand, but hey, there you go).
Amongst the encores, a spirited rendition of Steely Dan’s Dirty Work – that was fun.
And in fact that’s the right adjective for this set – fun. A fun romp through some wicked little pop songs. A great band, and a songwriter whose gifts are obvious, whose voice is quite astonishing; whose command of his craft is, I reckon, awe-inspiring.
I’ve run out of ways to suggest that Milne is the best contemporary songwriter working in this country and that we’re lucky to have him – so I’ll just not worry about any risk of repetition and say it: Milne is the best contemporary songwriter working in this country and that we’re lucky to have him. SIMON SWEETMAN
Mojo Magazine – July 2012
THE SPARROW (Bella Union)
Third album from New Zealander enamoured of Canterbury/Zombies pop.
James Milne’s pop-centred album with his band The Reduction Agents and a more maverick debut under the Arabia alias simultaneously appeared in 2006. This being the latter’s third album, with no sign of the Agents, underlines which psyche has triumphed. The press notes talk up Serge Gainsboug as an inspiration but The Sparrow sounds more English; oozing prime Canterbury (Kevin Ayers’ laconic beatitude; early, wistful Caravan), with hallmarks of Zombies baroque that recall a rickety Eric Matthews. Nostalgists will sigh at Travelling Shoes’ calypso sway of strings, Lick Your Wounds’ sad piano sigh, lulling bass and sugary falsetto, or Dessau Rag’s shuffling brass eulogy. In all, Milne’s singular melodic knack makes The Sparrow a pointed tribute to a world before the white heat of punk. MARTIN ASTON
Uncut Magazine – December 2009
CHANT DARLING (Bella Union)
Fancied New Zealander’s arch retro-pop larks
In-the-know Kiwis have long talked up the talents of James Milne, a bit-part player in The Brunettes and The Ruby Suns, who releases his own music under the eccentric guise of Lawrence Arabia. The effortlessly adroit songwriting on this, his second album, shows why. The sublime harmonies and Abbey Road ambience of “Apple Pie Bed” and “Dream Teacher” mark Milne out as a master pop classicist in the vein of Richard Swift. If he is occasionally inclined to go for the gag rather than the emotional jugular, that should only bolster his cult appeal. SAM RICHARDS