An undeniable sense of nostalgia haunts the ten songs on In Camera, the debut from Seattle’s Arthur & Yu. Based on conspicuous nods to the Velvet Underground and Lee Hazlewood, the duo of Grant Olsen and Sonya Westcott are pining away for a golden age of pop music, when infectious melody and hazy atmospheres were stirred into one intoxicating cocktail. Then again, the way reverb cloaks the recording like fog conjures an even more fundamental kind of nostalgia: This amniotic sound is so soothing, so tranquil, that it might as well be the sonic equivalent of curling up into the fetal position. In fact, these slightly murky recordings were originally intended to be a demo for a full-fledged studio effort, but Sub Pop imprint Hardly Art heard the magic and issued In Camera as is.
To be fair, Arthur & Yu are hardly purists dedicated to preserving a bygone sound. If the songs on In Camera are filtered through the Velvet Underground, they’re also part of the Velvets’ elaborate family tree, which includes such relevant descendents as Galaxie 500 and Mazzy Star. It’s hard not to superimpose Hope Sandoval’s voice over the washes of guitar and tambourine on “Flashing the Lobby Lights.” But even if it’s a sound that recalls a lineage of soft, psychedelic pop, this constellation of references doesn’t intrude on some truly wonderful songs. “1000 Words” floats like a summer breeze, as Olsen’s rich timbre and Westcott’s delicate voice trade verses over minimal “Pale Blue Eyes” guitar. “The Ghost of Old Bull Lee” is a giddy, bubbling tune with glockenspiel and whistling motifs rising and falling against a scratchy guitar strum. And the super-minimal string-bending guitar lead and harpsichord flourishes on “There Are Too Many Birds” make for love at first listen. Arthur & Yu may be too grounded in the past to alter the future of pop music. But if they make songs this lovely, there’s no shame in that.