Baltimore’s Arbouretum make their Thrill Jockey debut with Rites of Uncovering, Rites” an eight-song battle royale where separate distinctive influences fight for their spot as the album’s best contribution. Led Zeppelin, Television, Frank Zappa, Will Oldham and Jerry Garcia, along with some impressive original talent, roll into one to create a rich, creative album.
A hard, fuzz-charged guitar chord kick-starts the opening song “Signposts and Instruments.” The hard rock garage sound that should logically follow is aborted immediately and the song digresses into a melodic groove. This bait and switch is a refreshing and subtly innovative way to challenge the listener. Unfortunately, “Signposts” is the album's weakest song. It is sung in what sounds like a faux-English accent, and attempts to capture the darker sounds of Led Zeppelin. Complete with Tolkienesque imagery like “the world is long with snakes and illusions” the song’s saving grace is its delicate instrumentation and gritty production. Although this opening doesn’t deliver a great setup it does segue nicely into the solid “Tonight’s A Jewel." Arbouretum’s Dave Heumann was Will Oldham a.k.a. Bonnie “Prince” Billy’s backing guitarist and what he absorbed through that experience shines brightly on this track.
Building on the dark mood of the first two songs the band hit their stride with the third track “Pale Rider Blues." “Pale Rider” showcases the band’s originality and excellent musicianship. With great dueling guitar, lyrics that are not overly drenched in fantasy, smart guitar work and an excellent atmospheric collaboration between the players, this song is perhaps the strongest on the album. The remainder has only one major standout. “The Rise” is a head bobbing, eleven-minute rocking groove that uses a similar guitar tone and melody line as Frank Zappa’s “Willie The Pimp."