Arms And The Boy
Conceived by Josh Macke (vocals, guitars), Arms And The Boy is an attempt to translate his personal experiences into accessible music. Enlisting the help of JJ Evans (guitar, keyboards, vocals), Jason Torrence (bass, vocals), and Brian Manley (drums, electronics), the newly formed group spent the summer of 2001 in the studio of Tim Bushong, capturing the emotive, plaintive music penned by Macke.
The first thing that strikes you about the album is its sound. I can't imagine a band trying to play music like this in a local bar but my understanding is that Arms And The Boy have played out, so more power to 'em! This CD was conceived and recorded as an album, not just a collection of whatever songs got the most crowd reaction. With a tip of the hat to Radiohead, there's a homogenous sound to the songs, giving a very cohesive feel to the album. Adding to this are sound effects or sustained chords that flow from one track to the next, making these melodic, guitar-oriented songs part of a cycle instead of individual offerings.
The album begins with a subdued instrumental introduction that flows into "A Brief Biography", a soaring and heartfelt song full of ringing guitars, Rhoads-like keyboards and drumming impressive enough to attract my normally drum-oblivious attention. The lonely and dynamically changing "Oceans and Seas" is filled with Floydesque keys, lulling the listener by the waves of sound only to be awoken by one of the best tracks on the album, "Torn Edges." With upbeat, strummed guitar, the song propels quickly to the ultra-catchy chorus that contains nicely blended vocal harmonies and constantly shifting instrumental parts which weave in and out. "Obey" follows (available for download from the bands website), another killer song that begins with a melancholy fel only to skillfully build in intensity, ending in a fury of vocals cried through hoarse shouts of anguish. Quiet and contemplative, "Changing Views" is a welcome respite from the prior emotional exercise before the next track, "Waiting For Daylight". Compared to the mellow songs before, "Daylight" rocks nicely without resorting to distorted guitars… just heavy, creative drums and a good guitar riff. "Spoken Diary" contains ever-changing arpeggio guitar chords played over a female spoken voice. While this could have been cheesy, the voice is layered in the background with male singing and instrumentation on top, creating a very compelling song. The album ends with "Time Of My Life", an appropriate send off into the void of life with ringing guitars, quiet singing and an arresting melody. If I failed to mention the bass guitar above, it's because, alas, it was mostly absent, at best a subliminal suggestion on most tracks. I guess nothing is perfect…
This is definitely an album that you need to set aside an hour to experience. Creating a cohesive album experience is a daunting feat for any band, but Arms and the Boy has hit the mark with this debut album of alarming beauty. Check out "Obey" at www.armsandtheboy.com and if you like what you hear, you can order the CD for a mere pittance.
This review first appeared in WhatzUp, March 2002.