Keywords: Indie, Rock, Pop, Powerpop
Reviewer: Alex Spalding
Ah, sorry for the very limited info above! I’m just gonna be talking about a lot of stuff right now. All of it will be related to a band I’ve come to know over a very short few minutes as Armstrong.
May be a bit of a Stretch, but their music landed me on the moon and… it’s a beautiful life. Let’s start with a video!!!
Right away I notice all these red balloons, which seem to be becoming a very unexpected motif for me over the last day or so. The sounds they are getting out of the guitars are unexpected. Tiny, bright, smooth and clear. There’s a mic on the floor… and it looks like there was a big party last night and everyone decided in the morning that instead of cleaning it up they’d just play some nice music and maybe the mess would take care of itself, which I can tell you, definitely works in real life, so that was a good choice. The singer lifts up the mic and dangles it around… everyone jumps up and down and it looks like they’re having fun! Some of the balloons get kicked, and my heart goes out to them. As the music turns fierce, I start to see them explode into colorful clouds of dust! It gets all over the place. It seems like the kind of material you’d still be finding all over you for days afterward. Like, a week later you’d be out somewhere and suddenly someone would stop you and be like, “hey, uh, you’ve got something on your neck… it’s some kind of blue stuff…” and you’d say, “oh… yeah, thanks… a balloon exploded on me a week ago.” and they’d nod, knowingly. I like the section of the music that follows, the sound becomes very heavily noisy/atmospheric. Then, it stops. Balloons are just… everywhere. And some tv sets.
That’s what that was like, for me… but, why stop at describing a video, when there is so much more!!!
On the band’s soundcloud page, one of the first things I notice is an Emma Goldman quote, “Dance like no one’s watching”… I’m a huge fan of Emma Goldman, her anarchism was always very passionate and cutting, and she would occasionally lift us to recognize that regardless of the turmoil of the political and economic realities we are still facing, we cannot forget the simple joys of existence which make life worth living. I don’t know if she ever actually said anything about dancing like no one is watching… it seems like something Tolstoy would have said, though.
I’ve decided… I’m going to listen to everything on their page and see how I feel.
I feel like the most beautiful musical moments are when things don’t go the way you expect. Like, you thought that note was gonna be there, but it just wasn’t. Instead, it turned out to be like… a whole beat away. Don’t know if that’s just because, my life, or what. Or, when someone’s playing something, and keeping a rhythm for a whole track, but then at one point they sound like they just got overwhelmed and their playing kind of flutters, or stumbles. I love that.
I know a lot of musicians get obsessed with everything being perfect. I can understand those musical moments, too. That’s human. We all want everything to be perfect. It just rarely is. I like for that to be reflected.
I like to find perfection within a total expression, through it’s flaws.
When you can see the whole of everything in one thing, like a piece of music… it’s moving, to me.
I guess that what it is, is that we reach that point of recognition of something integral to life. It’s when fairy tales no longer satisfy, at least not completely as they once did. But, there’s this entire other thing, coming after this recognition sometimes, where despite reason, we are still reaching out for that feeling of… this can be a tale that ends happily ever after. This could be perfect. Sometimes, it’s in our nature to insist. Even when it isn’t… it can be. I believe that, too!
So, I can’t hate the gloss always, or the polished nature of this, the touches of auto-tune I’m detecting here as well. I feel like someone, the band perhaps, the producers, the whoever-they-are’s involved with this music, really wanted it to be perfect. It comes across this way, to me. Like… if there were a hidden emotion somewhere behind it all, it is one of… I just want this to be perfect. Somewhere, underneath ‘Bend. Buckle. Break.’, I hear that voice.
Well, it’s one of those things that are hard to talk about. The band tells you, we are indie rock with pop elements… and, you know, as a rock group of almost any kind, instantly the majority of people are going to feel like it needs to be sounding a certain way. Primal force, raw, etc. So when there’s gloss, like what I’m hearing… agh, part of me didn’t want to acknowledge it! I don’t want to make anyone feel bad about that, even though it’s there and it shouldn’t be a big deal. It’s ok! It’s like, sometimes an artist wants to go for that, and if they go for it, they can own it. It takes a lot to get to perfect in this very particular way that always seems to be changing, technologically and stylistically.
When I look at this groups’ influences, which come through on their site, I see Garbage, which were very glossy and perfect. We Are Scientists get name dropped, which I hear in the brightness of the tone of their sound.
It’s all just very interesting to me. Every sound is in time, every voice clear. The shouts are well orchestrated. Nothing is off… and, it can feel so strange, when nothing is off and everything goes right. Flawed. I think that’s what I’m trying to embrace with this music… as well as this cultivated sensibility that comes through with these particular artists, of walking what must be a very fine trapeze of independent rock and pure pop gloss in a day and age where most people find their place on one side or another and are troubled by that line and anything that might move upon it. It’s surreal… and, well, it makes a statement to me. As I listen to it for probably the third or fourth time now, I start to imagine a fairy tale. “Reality”, whatever that is, is only a trace…
It makes me feel that this band occupies a very unique sound space. A twilight zone.
I’m needing a deeper perspective… feels like it’s video time again!!!
Here, is a live take of the song above described. There is a contrast that I enjoy a lot, because live it all comes back to reality, in all it’s… whateverness. A performance that aspires to the perfection achieved in the recording, but is beautifully flawed. I like how the crowd (or at least one dude there!) knows the words, fills in the spaces… and how attempts at album perfect moments are pulled off. They’ve got a good sound that comes through in the video, and it’s fun to see their joy and energy in performing. This affirms a sense that I have that this band is passionate!
I love the bassist, because I feel like he is so into the moment, the performance… he mouths all the words and must know them by heart. Everybody’s got a real positive vibe and are clearly talented.
Anyway, moving on to another single on their site…
‘You Are Not Alone’ busts in without a knock, but it’s ok because it’s got a killer melodic sound. Well… it’s nice. The vocalist cuts right through the mix with her style of singing, very powerful and front-center. I like the pops of heavy guitar. Though the whole track feels driven by power chords, the best moments are the ones in which their sense of melody and progression emerge. I think that if they can fight through the list of typical problems that could threaten a band through the course of it’s existence to produce more work in the future it will be a blast to see how several of the elements you hear traces of in this material could come out more.
Talked a bit about this one when we watched the vid. It begins with some strumming, and goes into heavy melodic sounding rock… so I’ll talk about this last one…
… ‘Just Cause’. This one starts with some hats, kicks over into rock right away… one of the guitars sounds like a nest of hornets. It breaks away into an atmosphere of pop rock. Beneath the sheen, there are interesting ways they make contrasts of sounds… including a nice bit in there, some kind of strange electronic bwoop! sound intersection.
Phew, I feel like I took a lot in with this band. I think I’ll end this tangential review with a bid to check out their soundcloud page! Listen to them often, because I’m sure they’ve got some more music on the way soon! Listen to it so much your ears are like, “what are you doing to us!?” and then begin conspiring to revolt against you. Just kidding, of course. Your ears will most likely enjoy Armstrong.