REVIEW: Heather Christian & the Arbornauts - FOUR.FOUR: 2/4

Laura Kerry

Heather Christian has mastered the art of matching music to narratives. As a composer, Christian has scored a number short films and high-profile theater productions, including Gertrude Stein’s The World Is Round, performed at BAM in Brooklyn, for which she won an Obie Award from The Village Voice. She is the Mississippi-raised daughter of a blues musician and a go-go dancer, a combination that we can imagine is partially responsible for her first two albums with her merry band of multi-instrumentalists known as the Arbornauts—namely 2012’s Cabinet and 2014’s House / Hymn, which seem equally influenced by nighttime revelry and porch-sitting balladry.

The latest score that Heather Christian & the Arbornauts have taken on is a large and ubiquitous story: the FOUR.FOUR EP series chronicles the four seasons. Now on their second collection, the band has just released 2/4, a soundtrack for the springtime. As they describe it, it is a “pop-surrealist Vivaldi experiment into what a season does to the heart, but also serves as our sonic snapshot, a love note in super 8.”

It is an apt description starting from the first track, the gospel-infused “Gabriel Job & Peter,” which opens on birds chirping and a cappella voices in harmony. Lyrics such as “Cherry cherry black and thorn and evergreen / Thirty years an ocean and a wind machine” and “Though my mind’s a memory of a once white light / I squint and I can see you almost every night” mix nature and religious imagery with an otherworldly theme, creating a kind of surrealist hymn. Similarly, the “Jesus and propane” of “White Train” and baroque “coos” of “Silo” invest Christian’s avant-pop with a feeling of mysticism.

Christian’s own version of the strange spiritual returns in moments throughout the album, but for the most part, as the choral voices from the first song drop out, her lone voice deals in more intimate concerns. In the dual second track, she begins with abstract imagery in keyboard-backed affect reminiscent of Regina Spektor—without the syrupiness—but halfway through begins a yowling plea, “Why don’t you love me? / You’re put here to love me.” This earnest sentiment is echoed in the last song, “Out of Nowhere,” which begins, “Darling, where do I begin? / I have wandered these streets without a friend / And I will try not to write you another sad song”—lyrics whose country melancholy is echoed in the light touch of a slide guitar.

For an album that considers the colossal theme of the changing seasons, this second collection of the FOUR.FOUR series feels personal and approachable. The EP is weird, but it never loses its footing in Christian’s solid grasp on composition, songwriting, and beautiful singing. Throwing a bit of everything—from gospel to electronic—into their experiment, Heather Christian & the Arbornauts have arrived at an unexpected yet fitting score for these fresh spring days.