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Arthur & Yu

Childhood is Chiller

Seattle’s twinkly-psychedelic duo Arthur & Yu includes neither an Arthur nor a Yu (no Belle, no Sebastian; no Iron, no Wine). “Arthur” and “Yu” are childhood handles long dormant until Grant “Arthur” Olsen and Sonya “Yu” Wescott dusted them off and revived them in a music-making frenzy. Although, like their music, the two are more laid back than the word “frenzy” seems to imply.

They met via the Craigslist music classifieds and then, after some extended conversation, decided they’d make music together. “Her [childhood nickname] was Yu, and mine was Arthur,” Olsen divulged to the Seattle Weekly May 9, 2007. “[Arthur] was my grandpa’s name, and they would call me that when I was a kid. So we kind of had these childhood names that we didn’t go by anymore that fit this band.” If this move smells nostalgic, Olsen and Wescott would hardly protest: the band’s sound -- exemplified on its debut In Camera -- ripples with lush, mysterious lyrics and harmonies that are nothing if not reminiscent and openly adoring of childhood and it’s memories.

The album, the inaugural release on Sub Pop’s new imprint Hardly Art, dreams in lullabies and richly instrumented poetry. The songs are simple, and full of the soft, bygone-days feel of reel-to-reel, black-and-white film showing home videos from a family vacation to Nantucket or Coney Island in the 50s. In this way, the music takes the sparkly light-hearted sound of M. Ward and melds it with the pop-aesthetic (driven, vocals-centered and catchy-tuned) of the Shins. Run through a wash of reverb that leaves your ears (almost too) echo-y, numbers like “There Are Too Many Birds” and “Half Years” pearl us from pellet-gun mishaps to schoolyard nostalgia, reminding us in the process what a confusing paradise youth has always been.

Kitschy, of course, would be the ultimate destination for any album that never left the realm of happy-hippie-melodious-gooey. In Camera avoids this fate, however, by twisting us down darker, more surreal paths, a turn which is also fitting given that childhood is as famous for being terrifying as it is for being carefree. On tracks like “Afterglow", for instance, the band fires off eerie, edgy poetry that -- like the title -- foster a sense of post-traumatic serenity: as beautifully creepy for its out-of-place-ness as flashing a smile right after a nuclear bomb goes off. “Sun coming down / leaves on the ground / and a wolf got caught up in the barbed wire / and there's a bullet in the wood we use for fire,” croons Olsen in disconcerting (but alluring) tones. These tunes, in fact, meet the darkness of the Decemberists with the metallic, broken-hearted edges of the Mamas and the Papas, all the while maintaining the happy undertones of Belle & Sebastian’s best ballads.

At its weakest, the album slips into repetition or crosses too far into simplisticness. What’s more, the record’s not repetitive because it’s too long: it’s short, and though (mostly) sweet the artists could’ve afforded to push it a smidgen more into the outlandish or experimental. Still, for a first effort, it’s a gem, wrought of both nostalgia and the best kind of creepy surrealism. Stay young, or at least keep dipping your fingers in the mind’s adolescent memory stores, the duo seem to say with a sly grin. It’s not hard to agree—especially with music like this. That is to say, if Arthur & Yu keep failing to grow up, we’ll all be the better for it.

Arthur & Yu perform at Café Du Nord w/ Great Lake Swimmers on Oct 14th at 8pm. Tickets are $14.