“It appeals to the ADD in me,” says singer-songwriter and visual artist Joseph Arthur regarding his decision to release five records in 2008, and the Ohio native is only half-joking. Arthur has never been one to hold a precious enough opinion of his own work to dole it out to listeners in well-paced portions. His last full-length album (Let’s Just Be) was released less than a year ago; its predecessor hit shelves only seven months prior. He’s experimented with a year’s worth of EPs before: In 2002, his Junkyard Hearts project entailed four EPs released two weeks apart from one another.
But given the series of Arthur releases on tap in 2008 – four EPs and a full-length album, all of which find him exploring different stylistic aspects of his music – it seems he’s become acutely aware that the current landscape of the industry favors artists who keep the attention of their fan base by narrowing the time gap between creation and product.
“I feel like I’ve been trying to get to this point for years now. It just makes sense to get things out closer to the impulse,” says Arthur. “Up until the EP goes to mastering, I’m still working on them. [The songs] can be a week old by the time they go to mastering, but some of them are a year old.”
With two EPs mastered and a third compiled – “I haven’t made the fourth yet,” he says; “I made a lot of spoken-word tracks with [frequent Gutter Twins guitarist] Dave Rosser that I’d like to do something with” – Arthur has already covered considerable ground.
The Could We Survive EP is well-rounded and sonically diverse. Starting with the anthemic acoustics of “Rages of Babylon” and revisiting some of the territory Arthur explored with his recent rock-oriented band efforts, the six songs feel less like a mini-album than a collection of top-shelf material that was inadvertently left off several hypothetical full-lengths.
Crazy Rain (the second EP, set to be released in April) is more cohesive. More electric and electronic sounds color it, and the collision of drum machines, distorted vocals and fuzzed-out guitar lines gives a sense of dyspeptic experimentation. As for the third record, Arthur says it’s “more stripped-down, more acoustic and slower … it’s more of a late-night type of music.”
With so much material being released in so little time, the question is whether or not Joseph Arthur is selling his own work short. Instead of a proper album that can be praised (or critiqued) for its variety, don’t these short-form releases make him seem a victim of musical graphomania?
“I think it fits in with these times,” says Arthur. “I could have put out a double or a triple album, but people have shorter attention spans. It just makes sense to get things out closer to the impulse. I think I’m more from the Jack Kerouac school of ‘first thought, best thought.’ There’s a risk, because the lack of time can make for mediocrity: sometimes you can undercook something. But you can really overcook things too.”