April 24, 2012

Fuel/Friends Chapel Session #14 :: Adam Arcuragi & the Lupine Chorale Society

Adam Arcuragi has this rumbly deep, soulful voice that roils down into the bottom sediments of the lagoons and trolls up things for me. His is a kind of sturdy music that radiates equal parts gospel retribution, the pull of the sea or the drive of torrential rains, and so many voices rising together to answer the questions (or at least give it a shot, with conviction). Somewhere along the line his music got deemed “Death Gospel,” a name that totally fits when you listen to the way he describes it: “Death Gospel is anything that sees the inevitability of death as a reason to celebrate all the special wonder that is being alive and sentient.”

I fell for Adam Arcuragi & the Lupine Chorale Society pretty instantaneously when I saw them pouring out all their musical joy and four-part harmonies in their song “Bottom of the River” in a NYC flea market for the Blogotheque Sessions. Then after I finished the battery of my first graduate school residency, feeling dessicated, the torrent of his songs roared through again with the release of Like A Fire That Consumes All Before It… (out now on Thirty Tigers), saving me from that particularly pernicious breed of self-doubt and soul-weariness.

This chapel session was the first one recorded in the shiny new year of 2012, at the end of January on a Saturday morning so gorgeously clear and perfectly ice blue. The band had slept at my parents’ house the night before, due to me being full-up with wonderful couchsurfers, and my mom had laid a clean set of towels on each bed and made them all breakfast. So I think they were in a pretty good mood (me too), so much so that they were taking requests and inviting me to sing along. Like most bands who end up in the church, I knew from the first time I heard them that I wanted this recording to happen (Lupine: “of, like, or pertaining to wolves” – I’m all for the howling) and it didn’t disappoint.

As I said in January, how can any of us doubt our reserves when there is music like this to explain the questions?


President’s Song
The opening growls that Adam uses to start this song off remind me of a massive engine trying to turn over. It’s got an immense load to haul here, so forgive if it bucks a bit. Adam puts all his wonderfully wordy lyrics up on his website (like vocab-porn for me) and this song seems to juxtapose a foreign influence bringing church and promises, contrasted with the wilderness and surety of elemental certainties like the coming rain.

Broken Throat
Many of Adam’s songs strike me as either being taut with the sense of something unknown looming on the horizon, or the sure certainty of knowing certain secret things. This song is the latter for most of the verses, the reassurance of all our voices rising together to answer that which we do know, and making sense of us all in there together. As you can see beaming off me in the video, I loved being part of this knowing, this chorus of voices (I have a secret aspiration to be in a gospel choir, true story).

But for all the choruses and verses, the line that still sticks in my throat a good deal is towards the end, sung quietly: “And if I saw it, I still don’t think I’d know.” Huh. Yeah, I don’t know if I would, either.

(this song was my debut singing on a chapel session with real musician-folks. I’m available for weddings and background vocal tracking.)

Port Song
I’m pretty tickled to know an actual living-breathing sailor who goes off for months at a time and then returns to step down off that boat. From what I gather, the fragmentation of life at sea & life on land with the stability all around you of those you love can be disorienting, even when it is welcome. This song gets right at that, and always makes me think of my sailor friend. It’s a beautiful metaphor not only for reconnection but for the ceasing of the fighting alone. The first verse sounds restrained, like fatigue mixed with the slow creeping regeneration setting in around the roots, and then by the end everything is fully re-engaged, full-throated and wailing. “So, let me be your come back down, steady as a hand to hold / let me be the first voice as you step down from that boat / and tell me of the sea and foam, a thousand ocean miles from home / the simple gift is the song you hear from this small familiar shore.” It also gets me right in the gut how Adam makes his voice sound like an otherworldly theremin at the end, all Neutral Milk Hotel-like. Unsettlingly penetrating.

Bring It On Home To Me (Sam Cooke)
As the band loaded their gear into the church on that dazzlingly sunny morning, I was suddenly gripped with a string of melody that wrapped itself around my brain – the magnificence of Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home To Me.” I casually asked the guys if they ever covered it BECAUSE IT WOULD BE PERFECT. They smiled, and this was the result. (I once posted about seven trillion versions of this song. Adam’s reminds me of the spaciousness of Britt Daniel’s version the most, but with more ooomph and soul-sadness). This rendition could have easily been a forgotten b-side to a vinyl single sixty years ago; I love the space and the clatter and the toe-taps, underscoring the uncertain shuffle and the pleading wail.

(for other videos from this session, go visit Kevin Ihle’s YouTube)

They’re in Europe in May, my foreign friends. Please GO. And tell them I said hello.

[Recommended reading/listening: Death Gospel’s got a Wikipedia page and a Spotify provenance playlist, and even an article from the University of Chicago’s divinity school about the genre. Ooh]


  • This is absolutely … wow.

    Bismeth Sparks — April 24, 2012 @ 10:59 am

  • Adam’s music always makes me feel like I’m in a chapel of some sort. This sessions is absolutely amazing. And that version of Bring It On Home? Awesome!

    pw! — April 24, 2012 @ 12:29 pm

  • Sounds real good. Nice job.

    Woody — April 26, 2012 @ 8:41 am

  • [...] newest Fuel/Friends Chapel Session was posted last week, this one with Adam Arcuragi. I kinda forgot how much I love [...]

    Monday Links | songsfortheday — April 30, 2012 @ 7:10 am

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Bio Pic Name: Heather Browne
Location: Colorado, originally by way of California
Giving context to the torrent since 2005.

"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
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