Musicians, too, can be spoiled for choice. When songwriter and producer Lawrence Arabia (James Milne) found himself overfed by the limitless options of digital music-making tools he resorted to a diet of symphonic late ‘60s tunes from Scott Walker and Serge Gainsbourg, noting how their aesthetic limitations meant “you can really luxuriate in the individual instruments”.
The New Zealander’s third record follows suit with nine lushly instrumented pop songs. Milne has a directorial ear for sound, letting the strings, horns and piano intervene in the action like over-eager bit players, embellishing his wry storytelling with cameos of their own. Violins fit for pouring high tea swoop us into a ballroom dance on Traveling Shoes but the polite parlour setting masks a song about a “town of perfect isolation” where “there’s only two sane people and they’re leaving soon”. On The Bisexual, a piano trills provocatively when the guy realises the other guy wants him – not his girlfriend. On The 03, a jaunty bass line taunts a failed small-town escapee when he returns home “to drift among the shrubbery with my tail between my legs”. Elsewhere, Milne makes ragtime (Dessau Rag) and falsetto (Lick Your Wounds) sound easy.
These genuinely funny songs about life’s minor wins and major humiliations are joined in the CD booklet by an equally impressive short story by Milne that could be about one of Camus or Dostoyevsky’s fatefully agitated protagonists.