Arlo Is Crap-Free

Photo by Stephen ManningAbout three weeks ago, I turned my back on the thankless task of always chasing what's new and decided instead to just listen to whatever the hell I want, regardless of how many friends I lose in the process.

But the real problem with rocking out to such un-phat beats as Andrew Lloyd Webber's cheesetastic musical Jesus Christ Superstar, which—don't laugh—I've been doing lately, is that you get lines like “this Jesus must, Jesus must, Jesus must die!” stuck in your head all day, and just try humming that in public without feeling like some kind of creepy freak.

But it's not just Jesus Christ Superstar. I've also been listening to this homemade La Cave lounge CD that features a delightful blend of shlocky spy themes and all-around syrupy, ballad-type crap, as well as early Pavement, Geraldine Fibbers and Arlo.

Arlo's where my rebellion breaks down: they're young; their album, Up High in the Night, is new; and I think they have a buzz. Damn it!

But still, I can't help that I love the album and have listened to it about 4 million times since I got it.

Of course, it doesn't really sound new. It sounds vaguely like early to mid-1990s indie guitar rock, and it manages somehow to walk that fine line between shimmering harmonies and a heavy, propulsive rhythm section without ever being so shimmering that it sounds like syrupy crap and also without ever being so heavy that it sounds like dissonant, sludgy crap.

Arlo is crap-free! Do you know how rare that is?

There's a reason much of the album evokes early '90s rock. “A bunch of the songs were written in 1995,” says vocalist/ guitarist Sean Spillane, who, along with vocalist/guitarist Nate Greely, shares vocalist/guitarist duties.

It's a sad, sordid and yet also kind of boring tale of being strung along by the music industry, which is why the details are not worth going into, except for this one: Arlo have emerged triumphant, and an album of songs that should have been released years ago has finally come out.

USC graduates Greely and Spillane, along with a variety of rhythm sections, have been playing music together since they met at orientation their freshman year. For much of the time, they played under the name Otto, although they've played under other, more exciting names as well.

“When we were doing our major-label hunt, they told us, 'You can't play under your real name because if they see you and you aren't playing well, it'll screw everything up.' So we were like, 'How about Butt Tub?'” recalls Spillane, an English major who thought he wanted to be a doctor until he realized he sucked at chemistry.

But Arlo, rounded out by bass player Schmedley and drummer Soup, who used to play in the LA band Holliston Stops, have managed to maintain a pretty good attitude despite the bullshit they endured. They signed to Sub Pop a little over a year ago, and “our lives have been much better since,” says Spillane.

Up High in the Night, the title borrowed from an e.e. cummings poem, features one blatantly anti-music industry song, “Botched,” which, according to Spillane, is about “how producers can make things out of shitty, untalented bands that go on to sell millions of records, and you have all these people toiling away for their whole lives and doing something worthwhile and not getting anything for it.”

If he weren't in the band, Greely, who worked as a reporter for the Los Angeles Daily News before quitting a month ago to “become a full-time rock star,” thinks he'd go back to school not only because he likes “reading and learning” but also because “I just really hate going into the world and having your goals be making money. It just doesn't inspire me at all. Learning, at least, is something that seems pretty worthwhile.”

“Shutterbug,” a Greely-penned tune on the album, is so innocently, achingly bittersweet that I can't listen to it without feeling near tears, which is weird since it's not even sad but is instead about the whimsical beginning of a summertime relationship. Maybe it's the fact that this relationship—which subsequently turned sour (although they're really good friends now, according to Greely)—pops up about four more times on the album, in its various forms of heartbreak, agony, getting back together and then breaking up again and getting back together and breaking up that makes “Shutterbug”—about the time when everything was sweet and unshitty—so poignant.

Or maybe it's all the Jesus Christ Superstar I've been listening to that's left me near tears.

Arlo at Koo's Art Caf, 1505 N. Main St., Santa Ana, (714) 648-0937. Sun., noon. $3. All ages; and at the Gypsy Lounge, 23600 Rockfield Blvd., Lake Forest, (949) 206-9990. April 7, 9 p.m. $7. 21+.

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