Nearly ten years and now three albums into his career, Belfast-based musician Mark McCambridge has made quite the impression thus far under his Arborist alias. First came his breakout debut Home Burial in 2016, which was then followed by a Northern Ireland Music Prize nomination for his incredible sophomore effort, A Northern View. With that success, McCambridge has earned support slots with titans the likes of Low, Echo & the Bunnymen and Cat Power, whilst also garnering famous fans such as actor Cillian Murphy.
However, you’re only ever as good as your last album, and it seems McCambridge isn’t ready to let his momentum slip just yet.
With the brilliantly titled An Endless Sequence of Dead Zeros, McCambridge delivers a record that is both experimental yet traditional. Adding his unique hallmarks to a sound born out of Richmond, Virginia where the record was crafted, he worked alongside producer Matthew E. White and his Spacebomb Studios band who helped put the magic into these nine songs.
With touches of Americana, folk and even the odd classical arrangement, McCambridge channels the likes of John Cale, Bob Dylan and Wilco, but also brings shades of more contemporary acts like Fleet Foxes and Midlake too. With the musical element richly textured, so too is the record’s thematic content. Across this collection of songs, McCambridge harnesses the fugue state of the early 20s to explore dreams, religion and family, crafting ambitious soundscapes around the words to help paint his picture to the listener.
Lead single and opener ‘Dreaming In Another Language’ presents the Arborist mission statement up front; an entrancing and quite psychedelic mini-epic, centred on looping drums and guitars which are seemingly there to pull the listener into the dreamlike state being described in the lyrics. It’s a mesmerising marriage of music and words, with follow-up track ‘Matisse’ possibly then even better. With a soulful central groove and inspiring gospel vocals, it’s a charming slice of 70s folk rock that explores how ideas can quickly become comprised after their inception.
‘Black Halo’ is then another fascinating composition, with some excellent bluesy guitar work backing up Arborist’s lilting vocals, as he softly sings of how our bodies hold and process trauma. It may sound like a dark subject matter, but the comforting country sounds that surround the lyrics offset it perfectly. ‘O Margaret’ then steers the record into yet another direction, offering a softly sung, beautifully orchestrated and ultimately moving ode to McCambridge’s own mother.
The middle section of the record then continues to serve up more instrumental delights – from the jangly folk and sweet harmonies of ‘One Morning Mid November’, the melancholic organs of ‘The Weeping Rot’, through to the hypnotic guitar slides and understated, horn-backed outro of ‘Unkind’.
This trio is then followed by the album’s spiritual title track, ‘Dewdrop Cherryoak’, which McCambridge himself describes as “A Neil Young style lament”. Poetically written and subtly arranged, it’s a big album highlight as McCambridge descriptively sings of “propping up dead bodies to sing to them, for we folk have no meaning without an audience.”
Recent single ‘Alabaster Skin’ then draws the album to a close with a gorgeous, string-tinged piano ballad, written during the recent riots in Belfast. Arborist then brings everything perfectly full circle by harkening back to the dreamlike state of the opener, channelling Leonard Cohen as he delivers the closing line: “Honey, I’ve been dreaming of an awful rage. In another body, in another language.”
Altogether this is another very strong outing from Arborist, with the whole record gifting a deeply layered, well-crafted experience that’ll keep you returning. With poignant themes and intricate arrangements, this is one fever dream from which you won’t want to wake up.