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Arnold

Poptones

Reverb saves many bands from bad intonation and hides weak songs in a haze of forced psychedelia. The London outfit Arnold is neither out-of-tune nor in need of hiding its gorgeous country-folk/classic-rock songs, but for some reason it feels compelled to turn the ‘verb up to 11. Give your ears a chance to acclimate to the gauzy mix, however, and the superlative songwriting cuts through like a Ginsu. Arnold’s last full-length, 1998’s Hillside, contains one of my favorite songs ever: “Fishsounds,” a Pink Floyd-ian and Neil Young-ish ode to a dead friend that’s equal parts soaring public lament and intimate bedroom weeping. There’s nothing on Bahama that stands out as much as “Fishsounds,” but the new CD is the better album. There are no outright hey-we’re-wacky-lo-fi-psychedelic-dudes antics like Hillside’s overly long and uninspired collage “Rubber Duck (Parts One, Two, and Three),” but Arnold’s ability to create lush, vaguely rural guitar pop remains. Acoustic guitarist and drummer Phil Morris sings in a whispered tenor or falsetto accompanied by high-lonesome harmonies from melody-first bassist Phil Payne and the occasional scraggily contribution from slide-wielding electric and acoustic guitarist Mark Saxby, who endearingly croaks his own way through a song or two when the mood strikes him. Bahama’s opening track, “Climb,” is practically swimming in a cistern of sound, its woozy, galloping rhythm doing the butterfly under the layered vocals and dreamy guitars, and the early-Bee Gees-damaged “Oh My” is positively oceanic. But the tunes fight to the surface on “Tiny Car,” a glammed-up folk-rocker that Marc Bolan would have been proud of, and the stripped-down and Jeff Buckley-like “Hangman’s Waltz”: The vocals float atop the music rather than drown under it, and the guitar lines turn from hazy to crisp. The grandiose and lovely 15-minute album closer, “Pavey Ark,” could have gone the wacky route, but it’s actually four solid tunes stitched together with bits of silence rather than “Rubber Duck”-style mumbling and sonic fussing. That’s the ticket, boys: Rely on your songs, not your studio. —Christopher Porter