BY NICK D’AMORE
Arc Iris is singer/multi-instrumentalist Jocie Adams’ fully realized vision. The band’s debut album offers a swirling journey within her mind, showcasing a deluge of ideas and creativity that were no doubt simmering during her tenure in The Low Anthem. Made up of several other skilled musicians, Arc Iris effortlessly weaves, twists, and stretches out in a myriad of styles, with Adams’ distinct and equally varied voice leading the excursions.
There is no shortage of beautiful and interesting moments on the album. At their best, Arc Iris focuses their dexterity and whimsy to create brilliantly charming and engaging music. The opening track, “Money Gnomes,” sets the stage for the trip ahead, with its bouncy verses giving way to a wonderful waltz chorus to complement Adams’ lyric, “I’ll waltz you ‘til you love me.” The record then eases into more plaintive territory with the Sufjan Stevens–esque “Lost on Me,” featuring muted brass accents and choral harmonies, and then darkens with the exquisite “Whiskey Man.” Here, Adams sings of a lover watching her broken man lose his battle with booze, if he’s even battling at all. Robin Ryczek’s cello mournfully groans throughout, accentuating the hopelessness while Ray Belli’s subtle heartbeat rhythm gently drives the tune. As the song ends, the man is once again coming to his weary lover; Adams sings, “He’s creeping up on my open doors again” in, perhaps, a knowing nod to Leonard Cohen, one of her influences, who sings about a similar dynamic between a woman and her poker-playing lover in his “Stranger Song” on his own debut album. There, Cohen narrates, “Your door is open; you can’t close your shelter.” In both songs, the relationships are bitter cycles: The Whiskey Man’s lover will let him in once more; The Stranger will find another open door to pass through.
Another ballad, “Canadian Cowboy,” follows. One of the more expansive songs on the album, it’s a pretty song, but one of the few instances where the album drags a bit. It builds gradually to its eventual climax and then exits just as slowly as it came, perhaps a few minutes later than it should have. This is quickly remedied, however, with “Singing So Sweetly,” which returns to the playful jaunt of the opening track. While both tunes feature veer and slide into various styles, “Singing So Sweetly” shows how the band can successfully harness its wealth of talent into an infinitely interesting four minutes.
The depth of Arc Iris’ ambition and creativity is best seen on “Honor of Rainbows,” a two-part song that features tension-filled interplay between Ryczek’s dramatic cello and Adam’s haunting wordless vocals in the first part. Adams follows with a wonderful melody backed by the thrilling piano of Zach Tenorio-Miller. After all the style shifts and switches, Arc Iris beautifully expresses a single theme, artfully composed and executed, in what is one of the stellar highlights of the album.
Arc Iris is an exciting debut. Though the band seems to have packed all of its musical interests and abilities into the album’s 11 songs, this is a most likely only a sampling of their capabilities and of the colorful ideas yet to spring from the mind of Jocie Adams.