By Helen Feibes ’23
Chimes and floating tones filled every inch of the Sonia and spilled out onto Cambridge’s Brookline Street. For a moment, I was either submerged in an ocean or drifting through a shark tunnel at the aquarium. Some 45 minutes deep into his set, Arlie frontman Nathaniel Banks hunched over his effects pedals while his bandmates swayed with the rest of us, encompassed by the dreamlike sounds and saturated stage lights. With this warm intro on loop, Banks looked around the room at all 200 or so of us and let us in on the hurt and healing that inspired, drove, and necessitated Arlie’s new album, BREAK THE CURSE. We listened, and when the loop broke and the titular track’s vocals finally came in, I felt my lungs fill my whole chest.
That might sound dramatic, but that’s the thing — Arlie blends lyrical and melodic playfulness with serious topics in a way that encourages you to be a little dramatic. The tracks on BREAK THE CURSE let you indulge in those sometimes silly but nevertheless real anxieties and frustrations of being in your late teens or early twenties (and probably older ages, though I’ll have to get back to you on that).
In other words, every time I get in my car, I queue up track one (“sickk”), roll down the windows, and shamelessly scream “I’m so sick of it!” all the way down Route 9.
I first listened to Arlie at the start of the pandemic, when their Wait EP trickled into my Spotify recommendations. I remember playing “barcelona boots” on my WAMH show during the fall semester of my sophomore year, and then losing track of the band until “karma” dropped last year and its massive energy totally blew me away. After that, every single that came off this album before its June 2022 release made an immediate appearance on my radio show.
But Arlie wasn’t just off my personal radar during that time. The band, which began as the solo project of then-college student Nathaniel Banks in 2015, took a hiatus after a tour following the release of Wait. BREAK THE CURSE is their first full album, and came after a lot of anticipation and much-needed rest. It was, sorry, worth the wait. For a thoughtful conversation about the actual creation and release of the album, I refer you to Melodic Magazine’s interview with Banks, as well as Banks’ recent Instagram post that accompanied the release of the “break the curse” music video.
BREAK THE CURSE is a magical forty-two minutes that assembles a diverse set of sounds into a sparkling, sharp, and at times nostalgic adventure. “sickk” is about starting over — an especially appropriate album opener after a hiatus — and “karma” follows its energy with a bursting rock quality and an enjoyably odd country twang in the second verse. “poppin” and “landline” sound like candy tastes, offering polished indie pop and exploring the crossfires of real-life relationships and the Internet (as the lyrics profess, “Thank God, I got a landline!”). “don’t move,” “cool,” and “icetrays” sharpen some of the album’s edges, leaning into alternative sounds and themes of control and misinterpretation, while “crashing down” crashes in with a whimsical chorus only 20 seconds into its two-minute runtime. “wait a minute” is a full Beatles moment, and “titanic” is an epic swell and closing track.
Meanwhile, “break the curse” stands out through its gentleness. Even as the track builds into an explosive final chorus, this softness remains, leaving the listener with a full 20 seconds of near silence (are those train sounds? birds?) before the next song plays. The title track is exactly what the album is about: uncertainty, escape, reflection, and moving on to better things.
BREAK THE CURSE is crisis and catharsis; it is intentional, honest, and infectious as hell. Dancing and singing alongside others in Cambridge, Massachusetts’ Sonia, I just felt good. You know? The care that each artist on the stage had for the music they were making was evident, and the energy was both epic and intimate. The guitars, drums, keys, and vocals played off each other perfectly. Banks’ rager of a saxophone solo was one of the best moments of the night, and old favorites like “barcelona boots” and “big fat mouth” had everyone moving. The kid in front of me wasn’t the only one jumping their heart out.