The Perfect Chord looks back at albums you may have missed when they dropped, or miss now that they’ve faded from memory. This week’s glimpse into the crates:
Che Arthur – All Of Your Tomorrows Were Decided Today
Mobile, Alabama-born songwriter/guitarist Che Arthur spent a considerable portion of the 1990s and early 2000s working behind-the-scenes in the music industry as a sought-after sound engineer, working the boards for the live tours of independent rock heavyweights Don Caballero, Minus The Bear, Pelican, and Jets To Brazil (among many others). Somehow, Arthur also found the time to front the band Universal Life and Accident; when that project ended, he went on to play lead guitar in Atombombpocketknife. When the latter band gradually stopped recording and touring, Arthur wasted no time, enlisting the aid of former Universal Life bandmate Adam Reach to man the drums on his solo debut.
Despite its pedigree, All Of Your Tomorrows Were Decided Today appeared in early 2004 as something of a surprise. Arthur’s most well-known previous work, most notably with Atombompocketknife, largely consisted of the same breed of angular, complex post-punk for which Chicago largely came to be known in the 80s and 90s; while Tomorrows can hardly be called a simple album, it is nonetheless significantly more straightforward, stylistically closer to Smashing Pumpkins than Slint. Indeed, the album’s songs, none of which longer than three minutes and forty seconds, stray very close to the realm of Foo Fighters-esque pop rock; upon its initial release, more than a few critics went so far as to compare Arthur to Dave Grohl, both in terms of role (talented sideman stepping into the limelight) and sound. Slightly more observant critics pointed out similarities between Arthur and two of his more obvious (and admitted) influences, Hüsker Dü’s Bob Mould and Grant Hart.
The Mould comparison becomes immediately obvious with the album’s first (and best) track, the blistering two-minute “Sunrise Hotel,” from Arthur’s massive wall of jangly guitar noise to his abstract, figurative lyrics; his voice—a surprisingly-grainy baritone used sparingly—sounds like a deeper, more soulful (and melodic) iteration of that employed by the late Matt Davis of Ten Grand. Also like Mould, Arthur employs both a brevity and intensity that makes the album’s twenty-seven-minute running time feel twice as long—in a good way. After “Sunrise,” “Farewell” and “This Changes Nothing” blow by in rapid succession, almost too quickly to fully reveal the richness and depth of Arthur’s guitar playing (although this is partially due to the vocals being slightly too far forward in the mix). “The Black Hills” slows the pace of the album slightly, powered by a sweet descending guitar melody which Arthur supplements nicely with a bouncing bass line, but still maintains a frantic energy.
So frantic is the album, in fact, that it reaches its midpoint after a scant eight minutes. “Worlds Are Impossible” is a fantastic power-pop tune, albeit a slightly melancholy one, with Arthur singing a somber plea to a lover (“All I’m trying to say/is ‘please don’t go away’”) over open chords played on layers of acoustic guitar. Immediately after “Worlds,” Arthur unveils the best display of his virtuosity on guitar, ironically, with the album’s most understated song. “After It Had Turned To Dust,” a hushed, almost-whispered tune with the singer accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, features a beautifully-intricate arrangement with some of the most beautiful chords on the album.
”Valley Of Fire” maintains the downtempo vibe for three more minutes, until Arthur kicks the tempo back up with the hiccupping gallop of “Heresies.” The album’s title track follows, second-to-last on the album and a well-timed jolt of distorted energy; although Arthur’s voice is, again, mixed slightly too far to the front, his guitars still chime clearly through the mix. The album ends somewhat-unexpectedly with “Chains,” a fast-paced punk burner (whose lyrics may-or-may-not have something to do with the social problems intrinsic to being a Black musician in what has become a largely white-dominated Rock scene) featuring a searing guitar solo and an all-too-brief two-minute, nineteen-second running time before it—and the album—comes to an abrupt end.
Fortunately, Arthur’s career would not be so brief—or suddenly truncated. He would release another “solo” album (2007’s acoustic Iron) before putting together a proper, eponymous power trio that would subsequently release 2009’s Like Revenge. Arthur still writes, records, and performs in Chicago, where he continues to be an in-demand engineer for both studio sessions and live tours, and is currently working on material for his new band, the curiously-named Pink Avalanche (reuniting him with drummer Reach). All Of Your Tomorrows, despite its short running time, is an interesting, pleasant capsule of Arthur’s musical vision at the time, displaying an artist just beginning to come into his own.
A. Darryl Moton is a freelance writer/Iowan/curmudgeon attempting to escape Portland, Oregon.