ALBUM REVIEW: The Armed – ULTRAPOP
Photo Credit: Trevor Naud
The Armed have built quite a reputation for being almost gleefully obtuse in terms of their existence. Given their previous stunts and strange things they have pulled, such as doing an entire tour consisting of playing open mic nights under different names and hiring actors to portray band members in publicity photos, you could be forgiven for thinking that they are once again misdirecting the audience in announcing their line-up for the first time.
Not that any of this is a bad thing. In fact, its quite a brilliant move in this age of knowing everything about everyone to just blur every single line as to who or what you are. Even now, they hint in interviews that this line-up may just be some people in The Armed, rather than the actual complete line-up. The last music we got from them notwithstanding video game soundtrack appearances was a single called Ft Frank Turner… that had a cover image of Frank Carter. Of course it did. Also, this is a band who has a character that appears in videos for other bands, one of which being Converge.
On this album, a gentleman by the name of Clark Huge is on synthesisers. Its either the most coincidentally perfect birth name ever because this guy looks like an Olympian, or he knows a great moniker when he thinks of one. Is Huge therefore more concept than man? No less than four people are credited with some sort of guitar part on this album, just to give you a further idea of the utterly lawless approach to moderation The Armed takes.
The title-track is a gorgeous, blissful lulling intro into the “Banana splits meets Ramones having a party inside a clown college” nature of ALL FUTURES, a wonderfully energetic creation. The pop hooks are present immediately, and have a habit of somehow sticking despite the attempted aural sabotage, and the synths add a wonderful texture.
A LIFE SO WONDERFUL sounds like a child having a sugar rush. Its almost guaranteed to put a smile on your face, perhaps even bring you genuine laughter at how gleefully deranged it all sounds. Its like Deafheaven deciding to jack in the long songs and make a punk record. The chorus is delirious brilliance, with all the unhinged abandon of a newly minted lottery winner let loose at Harrods. Seeing this song performed live will be quite something if its in their live setlist going forward. AN ITERATION has more a garage rock feel, with great hi-hat work and a driving bassline, and another incredibly catchy chorus, whilst BIG SHELL sees vocalist Cara Drolshagen take centre stage.
AVERAGE DEATH is the crown jewel of the record, its chorus with its genuinely surreal mix of blissed out singing and chaotic drums is as creative and as exciting a chorus you will hear all year. It will bury itself in your head and it’s one of the year’s best songs. The gorgeous textures of the intro synths are so captivating as well. FAITH IN MEDICATION is another great example of the wall of guitars and drums just being thrown at you.
WHERE MAN KNOWS WANT builds its infectious bass run, clashing with the propulsive beat laid down by either Ben Koller of Converge fame, or Urian Hackney, who sounds like an excellent private detective specialising in catching philandering CEO’s, but is actually from the band Rough Francis. Regardless of whom it is, the drums are so propulsive throughout this release. BAD SELECTION starts with an almost danceable shuffle, and is the least aggressive and chaotic track for the majority of its run… until it utterly pummels you near the end in the magnificent catharsis. Album closer THE MUSIC BECOMES A SKULL features the weathered tones of Mark Lanegan, surrounded and submerged within synth sounds. Its a great, grinding dirge to give you one final attack before letting you go.
The performances from all involved are magnificent, and credit has to be given to the co-production team of guitarist Dan Greene and Ben Chisolm for making everything audible whilst still feeling overwhelming. You can pick out so many little things on repeated listens, and it’s a remarkable job they have done. When Kurt Ballou is on hand as executive producer, and some would say the real mastermind behind The Armed, you’d be hard pressed to go wrong.
The first time you hear this utterly spellbinding musical perversion, even if you’re familiar with the band’s previous works, you’ll almost certainly feel overwhelmed because almost every second of this album is played on 10, including the more restrained moments. The maximalist approach may be off putting to some, but for those ready for the ULTRAPOP to hit them like a custard pie thrown by a strong clown, the hooks on this album will never stop (ultra)popping into your head. This entire concept and sound just should not work, but it does so brilliantly from start to finish. A bewildering, hideous, harsh, ridiculous but unbelievably joyous and unique thing that cannot be recommended highly enough, as you won’t hear anything quite like it…until their fourth album, which in a just and fair world would be called SUPER ULTRAPOP.
Standout Tracks: A LIFE SO WONDERFUL, AVERAGE DEATH, BIG SHELL
For Fans Of: Genghis Tron, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Sleigh Bells
Written by: Louis Tsangarides