I have to admit that there’s this part of me that has always wanted to be British. I’ll wait for all of you to stop snickering before I continue. Finished? Good. Perhaps it’s just the dumb American in me speaking, but looking back at all of the music I enjoy, a sizable portion of it has come from across the Atlantic. And this latest arrival, Coming to Terms by Arco, just intensifies said desire.
I have no idea what it is, but there’s precious few things that can be sadder, and yet more sophisticated, then a soft, whispery British accent. And wouldn’t you know it, but Arco’s Chris Healey has just about the softest, whispery-est voice in pop music. And that makes this album sadder than just about anything you’re likely to hear all year.
Imagine Belle And Sebastian stripped of their smartass-ness, the Trembling Stars minus Bob Wratten’s unhealthy fixations, or Mojave 3 sans the Bob Dylan fetish. Music that’s sadder than sad, and yet suprisingly free from any trace of self-pity or whining. The real reason isn’t necessarily their lyrics (though poetic and pointed, they’re nothing we haven’t heard before), or their songwriting (which is certainly in line with the other mopey British bands that we all know and love, such as Trembling Blue Stars or The Clientele). The reason that Arco’s music works so well is Healey’s voice.
This is a voice so soft and delicate that it’s almost a whisper; I’m surprised the microphone could even pick it up. Are the words that he’s singing sappy and emotional? Oh yeah… but so help me if I don’t get a tug at the heart when he softly sings “I feel like I’m suffering from a beautiful disease/When your sad pretty smile brings me down to my knees” (“Alien”). You may roll your eyes, but just wait until you actually hear it. And Arco just gets sadder as the album progresses.
Eventually, Coming to Terms reaches its climax with “All This World.” Listening to Healey sing “How many strangers d’you have to meet? How many old friends d’you have to see? With how many lovers d’you have to sleep to know that you’re alone in all this world?,” you wonder how he can even get out of bed, much less summon the strength to play those delicate melodies on his guitar.
Although Coming to Terms is barely over 30 minutes long, it feels so much longer than that. That’s why the album’s closer, “Lullaby,” is such a beautiful way to wrap it all up. When Healey oh-so-softly sings “Cast away your darkest fears, be released now/Still the pounding in your heart, be at peace now/May your dreams bring joy and wonder through the night/And the morning find you glad to be alive” over a heartbreaking piano melody, it may be one of the most comforting things you’ll ever hear.
I don’t think I’ll ever be as sad as this record. I hope to God that I’ll never be as sad as this record. But if I am, if I can’t seem to summon the strength to face the day, if it’s all I can do to keep from breaking down, I’ll take comfort in knowing that I won’t have to go through it alone.