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St. Arnaud: Love and the Front Lawn

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St. Arnaud – Love and the Front Lawn

Fierce Panda -29 April 2022

The promotional blurb describes singer-songwriter (and multi-instrumentalist as he plays everything here) Ian St Arnaud as channelling  Matty Healy from The 1975. Still, on the laid back jazzy inflections of the brass-coloured Sophie, the touchstone seems more to be Paul Simon. Meanwhile, the choppy, funky, watery guitar work on Enjoy Yourself calls to mind Postcard label heroes Orange Juice.

As the cover with its frog playing the guitar stretched out on a picnic rug would suggest, this is very much a summery pop album, or at least musically. Lyrically, however, it’s a somewhat different amphibian, the Sophie mentioned above having him singing, “I get lost at the station don’t you know who I’ve been? At another golden palace nursing habits in the place I used to keep my friends/When I called home yesterday to see if everything’s ok you said ‘no, not really/Everything you love is leaving everybody else has gone”. Likewise, the woozy 70s soul-infused Tie It All Together (“When did you first get up to leave me? in that corner of your mind/It’s been a while since I felt a teardrop pull me down/you broke our promise to be kind/I don’t like to be so serious but I don’t want to waste my time/when you leave tomorrow morning I think I’ll wither up and cry”) where “bitterness, is the longest bus ride home”. Or then again, the album closer, Giving Up On Love where, starting out on strummed guitar before the instrumentation builds,  love is falling apart while he’s trying to keep it together (“I could be your man again, whatever that’s worth/I don’t know what you need ‘til you tell me… I’ve been looking back on a few things felt you to hesitate to reciprocate my ‘I love you’…are you giving up on love or just giving up on me?”).

If anxiety is the default 21st-century mindset, then the gently pattering percussion and guitar of How Could I Ever Compare is a perfect snapshot (“When you cough in the bathroom, I worry you’re not coming back/I’d fall asleep, find you out in the hallway/I’d cry, call my sister, and tell her I’d lost you, she’d ask who you were to me, and where had I gone?”.

That said, in furthering the thread of self-reflection, vulnerability, and rawness that characterised The Cost Of Living, it’s also suffused with a glass half full view of life about being kinder to yourself and enjoying the moment you’re in. It’s there from the start with the opening track, Cle Elum, WA, another echo of Simon, which begins with the lines “Lately I’ve been coming down on the sunny side of sadness/It’s funny that it comes with no small sense of satisfaction when you’re always on the verge of crying diamonds on your pillow/what’s the use to say you saved yourself for some tomorrow?” and accepting that “some people take a long time”.

On the equally laid back 70s groove of Catching Flies, he sings about going with the flow (“When you need to get loose, have a nice time/When the cards stack right, play it tight/When the boss says jump, crack a half-smile”), and “I’ve been catching flies/I’ve been taking my pills some days/what a day to be alive”.  There’s a no use crying over spilt milk approach to life in the walking beat, bass throbbing Big Winner (“when it’s a blue, blue, blue Monday that goes on so long/ain’t it a sad, sad, way to see, sad way to see your life go on? and the 5 year plan, oh what is it again? without you, I’m lettin’ the sun shine, is that so wrong?”), which even has a sha la la la chorus.

Arguably more sardonic about life than a 24-year-old should be, Arnaud’s titles often belie the sentiment they contain, such as the catchy, brass blooming pop, Dorian Gray referencing Feeling Better (“Is it ever any wonder, that you never call your mother/nothing new to tell her/you could lie and say you’re feeling better”) and Enjoy Yourself (“I left my wallet drunk in a taxicab/it was an excellent reminder of ‘it is what it is’/when I sobered up, knew I fucked up/it’s too little too late”). In the end, however, the argument boils down to the fact that money can’t buy you happiness “(Say you got money in the bank, big house and a cat/well what good is that/If you still look like that?”) as he asks “Did you enjoy yourself? Did you have a nice time? Did you treat somebody well or …did you just tow the line?”

At the end of the day, as Loving, from whence the album title comes, has it, whatever crap comes your way (“I love the squirrels in my backyard not the thief who took my lawn chair and a shit beside my car”) and whatever the repetition of routine  (“some bad Chinese food from across the street/now it’s back to watching currents on the LED/another email rolls by, another day in the caffeine”), it’s better than the alternative, and if you’ve got love (“enough to keep us up at night”) and can be kind then the grass is always greener because, as in a ray of sunshine, he declares  “you can cry for the rain or wait for the sun to shine/you could take anything of mine/but I’d still have everything”.

Light, wry, witty, musically breezy and irresistibly toe-tappingly catchy, it fully deserves entry into the pantheon of pragmatic optimism.

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