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Arrange - Blood Dust Music Album Reviews

Malcom Lacey’s long-running electro-acoustic project feels like a window into someone’s private world.

Malcom Lacey, a Florida native who now lives near Portland, has been quietly releasing albums as Arrange for ten years. “Quietly” defines both his approach to promotion and the enticing murmur of his music; “washes over you” would be the operative cliché. It’s tempting to call his fluid electro-acoustic pop confessional, but a better word might be confiding.


Arrange has always felt like a genuine window into the depths of someone’s private world—someone intense but sweet, someone with whom you feel safe. This is odd, as the music courses with danger: Lacey sings as if he’s voicing scarily vulnerable things with his eyes covered, then peeking out between his fingers to see if the world is still there. Every time it is, he gets a little stronger.

Lacey began the project when he was only 17, and it has the air of a long-term therapeutic exercise, or exorcism. Growth isn’t just his process, but his subject, which he pursues with tender, dogged persistence. Lacey’s latest, Blood Dust, stops short of housing an easy epiphany; that would be a very un-Arrange, as he always traffics in more alloyed emotions and muted climaxes. But it does feel like the end of an arc, a survival and a summation—if a characteristically modest one—of a decade.

As ever, Lacey’s lyrics are concerned with mental health and family relationships. Throughout the album, blood is wiped from faces, blood is stolen, blood is transmuted from water. Allusive images of generational trauma accrue, abstract but vivid: There is a mercurial lover, a looming father. The album closes, after the glistening folk tune “Never Is,” with answering-machine messages from Lacey’s grandmother. You might feel moved without knowing why—something to do with home and how it moves around.

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On Blood Dust, 16 songs flow by in barely 45 minutes, but none of them feel incomplete or incidental. Their brevity only accentuates their intimacy, humility, and rich interior detail. Though virtual synths are present, there’s more live instrumentation—keyboards, piano, and especially guitar—than ever before. Arrange emerged from an era of early-’00s laptop loners like Elite Gymnastics, whose quietude was a shadow of sunny chillwave, but it still reminds me most of early Bright Eyes, especially in the low, choked tone of Lacey’s voice.

Lacey moves around in time to take the measure of his perspective at various ages, some of them predating Arrange, some plucked blindfolded from the distant future. The album begins with the knocking, drifting dream-pop of “The Lone Ranger,” where Lacey, now almost 27, remembers feeling “the same hate” at 21 that he did at 15. Much later, on “All the Trouble,” he wonders, “When I’m rotten at 83, do you think I’ll be the same boy? When I’m cold at 92, will you tell just who I am?”

Much of this language, not to mention the sound, is consistent with what he was doing back on Plantation. But it feels different, more mature and self-defined. Lacey’s music has modeled growth not in the incandescent spurts of much pop, but in the way it actually happens: by degrees so fine as to be almost invisible, with plenty of backsliding and false starts. Instead of someone heroically becoming someone else, it represents someone, even more heroically, learning to be who he is.


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