At the Heavenly Weekender at The Trades in Hebden Bridge back in January, Amber Arcades’ half-hour early evening set was the most engaging of the three days (young Halifax band The Orielles were the other stand-out act). The focal presence on stage is Amber Arcades’ mastermind, the very cool Annelotte De Graaf, vocalist, guitarist, songwriter – although there are no ‘look at me’ theatrics to her performance, it’s rather her cool, still presence that draws the eye.
Amber Arcades are all about sublime, shimmery pop which coasts along but this is no airy-fairy outfit; De Graaf’s musicians lend a muscular back drop to her dreamy vocals. Their output so far – album Fading Lines and two singles – has been a roster of strong, catchy numbers. It’s not easy to pick favourites, there are no obvious weak numbers (those ones where people start talking or slink off to the toilets). Standout songs are Which Will with its rippling guitars, or the sexy Fading Lines – while on Perpetuum Mobile, De Graaf cranks up the breathy vocals and gives the song a smoky, wistful 60s French pop song feel. De Graaf’s vocals are laid back in the mix, a seductive and tender layer woven into the fabric of the song. And it’s that juxtaposition, that mix of urgency and jitteryness against her soothing vocals that gives Amber Arcades their heartbeat.
I managed to catch them again at The Finsbury in north London two weeks ago. I haven’t visited the north London pub for a while so it was a pleasant surprise to see The Finsbury’s improvements to their live music room where for the lowly price of £5.50 we saw three highly proficient bands (including the riveting Sonic Youth-flavoured grungy guitar band Drahla who I’ll be hoping to catch again). This time round with a longer set, Amber Arcades were able to fully get into their stride and De Graaf seemed more relaxed, with more time to chat to the crowd, with one or two stories of life on the road.
Amber Arcades are playing several European festivals, including Sea Change, Totnes.