Review: Arlen – The Slight

Mood as Craft

Arlen is well established as a singular and novel melding of post-punk and moody rock long ago. With their latest EP The Slight, they’ve come at a fork in the road between past and present—and paved their own path through the middle.

The “past” recognized in The Slight is one inspired by The Cure, Joy Division, New Order, the Stone Roses, and themselves—moody 80’s post-punk and post-rock at once raw, savage, and sentimental. The attention to harmonic catchiness and clear hooks reinforced by drummer Andy Bechtol’s complete command of steadiness and low-end drive make this release an invitation to celebrate Arlen’s brand of infectious gloom.

The power of Paul Kenney’s vocals is the first indicator that Arlen is moving past the point where they fully realized their own sound with 2017’s Negatives. A more confident delivery balancing refreshing melodic choices and compelling dynamics, most clear in the emotional development toward the end of “Forgive Me”, has Kenney lead Arlen’s sound into something new.

Lead guitarist Breton Lefebvre brings more daring melodic choices throughout, most notably in the chromatic riff in the chorus of the EP’s title track and “Take A Bow”. There is also closer attention to a spacier guitar sound throughout, supported by Kenney’s solid rhythm tracks.

The interplay of Justin Shariat’s bass and Bechtol’s drums demonstrate a clean and steady backdrop for melodic layers that’ve taken a few steps up the ladder toward the sky. Technically reserved, The Slight instead delivers a closer emphasis on the production value—the tone and levels of Shariat’s bass playing, and the resonance of the drums, are two sonic details often overlooked but achieved here.

For me, the top track is “Take a Bow.” Split between the sentimental catchiness of New Order and a hook inspired by the more punkish elements of Joy Division, Arlen takes these sounds and makes them their own. Kenney’s vocals, with his signature nasally inflection, deliver us on a journey expressed through a wide range of characters and identities.

In the end, The Slight is Arlen doing Arlen better than before. As if filling in the wide space they made for themselves years ago they’ve claimed the land of modern post-punk and post-rock as their own without grovelling and pandering to their influences. In many ways they’ve achieved a demonstration of true creativity—using their influences to demonstrate synthesis as opposed to tribute.

– Al Gentile