There is no beginning…
When The Sound Of Arrows appeared to disappear following the release of their 2011 debut album Voyage, it seemed like one of the brighter hopes for electronic music may have gone forever. Stefan Storm and Oskar Gullstrand had brought an optimistic element to their widescreen pop that immediately stood them apart from their contemporaries.
Voyage’s strength was founded on the Arrows’ sense of wonder wrapped up in a fluid, dreamlike sound. This ‘magicpop’ element gave The Sound Of Arrows their unique appeal with a direction that aimed more for hope than cynicism.
Plans for a swift follow-up album were abandoned with Storm instead focussing his energies on Kids Of The Apocalypse, a side project that drew from many influences, including M83 and Gorillaz. Cultivated as a loosely narrative-driven idea in collaboration with animator Ernest Desumbila, the concept tacked to a much more immediate sound (utilising a hip-hop approach) than the Arrows’ typical dreampop approach.
But The Sound Of Arrows hadn’t quite been boxed away forever. The duo toiled away on music in the intervening years, taking their time to perfect their sound. This wasn’t new as apparently two proto-albums had been conceived and then abandoned before the pair had finalised Voyage (that then-label Geffen sat on the material for a year is another story altogether).
Promoting new album Stay Free, the band stated: “Most of the bands we really rate, they don’t make music on a conveyor belt – it’s more about when they’re ready and when they have something to present. It just took time to get right.” Certainly the duo’s new album Stay Free arrives in a world that’s changed quite significantly since Voyage was released. So just how does The Sound Of Arrows fit into contemporary music in 2017?
‘Beautiful Life’, which was the first glimpse of the new album, suggested that the electronic outfit’s talent for big pop tunes was still present and correct, but there’s also a more organic element with big string arrangements prominent in the mix. “Turn up the music and bring down the rain” suggests the wistful lyrics atop subtle synth rhythms. Meanwhile, the track is given plenty of epic sweeps courtesy of the strings section.
“Bandage every scar, silence all the noise and see the sky is full of stars” offers Storm on Stay Free’s title track. It’s a balmy tune that suggests summer skies and expansive vistas.
The cinematic elements that were such a vital element of Arrows work previously are evident on the likes of ‘Beautiful Life’ and also ‘Don’t Worry’. The latter employing a captivating strings-driven melody as Storm’s evocative vocal weaves in and out of the beats.
As with their 2011 album Voyage, the duo are also happy to bring in collaborators for vocal duties. ‘Wicked Ways’ brings onboard Annie to take the Arrows down trip-hop territory with its combo of beats and strings. Meanwhile, ‘In The Shade Of Your Love’ brings the impressive vocal chops of Niki & The Dove to bear. Here, the track has an hymnal quality through its choral elements and it breathes a tropical, languid atmosphere that invites the listener to swim in it.
There’s panoramic pop on tracks such as ’The Greatest’, while ‘Hold On’ employs sweeping orchestral beats that give it a Massive Attack-style sheen. The album takes a distinctly different direction with ‘Another World’. Here, a more sedate atmosphere is wrapped around a flute melody and tribal drum rhythms.
Elsewhere, the album also opts for slower, more reflective moments, such as ‘Lost In L.A.’ with its sober yearning vocal (“love will come to us/but we must wait”).
Richard X, who did duties on Voyage, is also back lending co-production duties to some tracks. Meanwhile, Elias Kapari and John ‘P*Nut’ Harrison also contribute their talents to Stay Free’s extensive range of material.
Stay Free is a very different affair to Voyage with a much more grounded sound than the magicpop of old – an evolution in The Sound Of Arrows sound that was hinted at in the earlier Kids Of The Apocalypse output. As Storm suggests: “It’s less conceptual than Voyage and a little more about having two feet on the ground, maybe gazing up at the sky rather than floating up into space this time.”
There’s always been a desire for the outfit to develop and grow rather than repeat themselves and Stay Free offers a solid collection of songs that stands proud against a busy modern music scene.
Stay Free is out now on Skies Above label.
The Stay Free album launch party takes place at The Old Bank Vault, 283 Hackney Rd, London E2 8NA on Friday 27th October, 6-10pm
The Stay Free Pop-Up Shop will also run at The Old Bank Vault from 27th to 30th October.