The Arcadian Wild isn't coming out of nowhere, but their 2023 album Welcome is certainly my biggest surprise of the year. My previous experience with the progressive folk/bluegrass trio was strictly the cover of their Self-Titled album which I remember seeing and being intrigued by and then completely forgetting about back in 2015. Fast forward to 2021's excellent four-song EP titled Principium, and though I couldn't quite add it to my Top 10 list for that year (a silly self-imposed no-EP rule that's bound to be broken soon), they certainly had my antenna up for more. Then nothing for two years (that I was aware of) before a few pre-release singles caught my attention yet again this calendar year.
Welcome is everything that I have come to love about music over the years: it's warm, vocally enthralling, musically riveting, and lyrically poignant. It is without a doubt the kind of record that keeps unveiling greater depth and nuance to appreciate with repeat listens. Truth be told, I haven't stopped listening to it for over a month as it quickly rises to my second-most streamed album of the year. It's also the type of work I would not have been ready for without the bridge of several important albums preceding it. Namely, Jars of Clay's Who We Are Instead (2003), Various Artists project Glory Revealed (2007), and last year's The Riverside album, Mythos & Petra, among others. Without these building blocks, Welcome would likely have passed me by and I would have been none the wiser missing out on finding pure gold in the process.
So, the question on my mind isn't "Is this a stellar record?" but more so, "Where does Welcome shine the brightest?" To that, I say it's in the totality of the song-craft. This is the total package record that reveals a seasoned group hitting the peak of their powers. "Two Kinds" is ultimately my favorite song, but it's placed late in the tracklisting. More on that in a second, but my goodness what a great tune "Two Kinds" is! Making great use of vocal dynamics and soft and loud playing, it all lands like a velvet hammer due to lyrics in one verse like, "I'm two kinds of people, a divided man/Which one of me will get the upper hand?/I am a menace and a harm to myself/I ought to fix me before anyone else."
That said, "Two Kinds" is built up to by the tracks before it, particularly the first five songs, three of which were released as singles. These were top-notch choices to whet the appetites of listeners old and new. From the harmonic, a capella start to "Lara," to the plucked strains of "Dopamine," with its ebbs and flows to the spacious sounds lead by a mandolin of "Big Sky, MT." Additionally, the buoyant instrumental "Garradh Seileach" (translated as Willow Grove), arrives at just the right time to inject a different energy and reset the palate for a fine finish.
There truly isn't a shortage of things to be captivated with, nor do I hear anything to nitpick. This is the laudable rarity of a listen that requires no notes of constructive criticism. Not to mention, this is all coming without the use of any traditional percussion/drums, without sacrificing any of the pep or dynamics. This quote is from the band about their choice to record mainly live and sans drums, "When we're working on arrangements, we try to treat our band like a drum set: who is the kick, who is the snare, who is the crash, hi-hat, etc. This approach helps each of us find our specific role in any given moment or section of the song, which again leads to a much more intentional and conversational arrangement." I have a confession to make; I didn't even realize or miss the percussion to the point that it wasn't until I read the press release quote, after listening through the record a handful of times, that I even noticed. That's how artfully they've pulled it off.
Welcome is an album depicted perfectly by its cover art. It is a welcoming invitation to feast at a table with longtime friends -- to experience rich food, conversation, and a depth of relationship on earth that echoes the fellowship taking place in the halls of heaven. This set of songs has been such a breath of fresh air to my soul with each return visit. I genuinely hope that those who enjoy the stylings of contemporaries like Taylor Leonhardt, Andrew Peterson, Zach & Maggie, and The Riverside will give it the time it deserves to do its melodious work on you as well.- Review date: 8/30/23, written by Josh Balogh of Jesusfreakhideout.com
Record Label: None
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