Thank god for Neil Young. Amid the aggressive, hyper-masculine, chauvinistic rock of the '70s, he and his band of merry Canadians crafted an unfuckwithable decade of fragile rock fury. With every sloppily missed note, every extended guitar solo, every song on the brink of collapsing on itself, he defined the alternative: An ability to rock while remaining smart about it. He was the tame lion nobody could mess with, solely based on the sheer rock ferocity underneath his timid exterior. Arbouretum possess many of the same qualities that made Neil Young so captivating in the '70s. Much like the other Young disciples of past years (Will Oldham, Jason Molina, My Morning Jacket), Arbouretum creates rock that is smart, sad, delicate, and vicious, without any of the forceful posing that has become synonymous with rock 'n' roll.
The driving force behind Arbouretum is Baltimore resident David Heumann—who previously toured as a backing musician for Cass McCombs, Papa M, and Bonnie "Prince" Billy—and Arbouretum is his first stab at being the chief songwriter and lyricist. Heumann has managed to carve a niche in both folk and reverb-friendly psychedelic-driven rock, which relies heavier on being literate than it does on taking drugs. His holistic approach to nature, the spiritual world, and humanity are the main focus of the lyrics, which cite Eastern religions as influences, and yet manage to induce enough force to make most hippies cower and run back to their Dead records.
Sure, in some alternate universe Arbouretum could be poorly labeled as a jam band. Lyrically, their spirituality sets them apart from most rock acts, and some of their softer, folk-influenced songs reek of hippie-ness. But what truly sets them apart is the ability to rock, the ability to take songs to the edge of destruction and reel them back in through sheer will alone. And the main driving force behind their music: the guitar. Heumann has managed to create some of the finest guitar solos this side of J. Mascis. And while Dinosaur Jr. frontman tended to be a little flashy in his soloing, Heumann has the uncanny ability to make his guitar solos not solos at all, using technical skill to embed them into the heart of the song so they never have to stand alone.
Very few can tap into the hippie vein without coming out smelling like patchouli. While Arbouretum are nowhere near to being hippies, the fact that they can even toe that line and remain tough is all thanks to Neil Young. They don't have to strut or pose or wail. They can attempt to find peace, and still be able to kick your ass. That duality is more rock and roll than anything all of those current Stones or Zeppelin-influenced bands could hope to achieve. Sorry Velvet Revolver, that means you too.