Monday, November 16, 2009

Matador - Arms and Sleepers


Arms and Sleepers
Fake Chapter Records.

SCQ Rating: 79%

Band comparisons are commonly more trouble than they’re worth, in that doing so runs the risk of either overinflating the band in question’s worth by association or seeking to pigeonhole said band’s style with that of another. In any case, band comparisons are haphazardly assembled bridges, grasping at straws for similarities and ultimately misleading whoever is listening in. Yet in spite of my disregard for sentences that start with “they sound like…” or “they remind me of…”, I can name a few bands that, if mentioned, will hold my attention. Epic45, Library Tapes, Boards of Canada; these are artists that hover in a gray area often called comfort-music and, chances are, if you like one of them, you’ll love them all. These examples are additionally interesting because each of these comfort-music artists are mentioned in relation to Arms and Sleepers (Max Lewis and Mirza Ramic). As it turns out, some band comparisons hit the bulls-eye.

How Matador squeezes convincingly between such lofty releases like May Your Heart Be the Map or The Campfire Headphase is credited to the soft-focus utilized by Arms and Sleepers, that reflective quality summoned by dreamy, lilting instrumentation and chill-out style percussion. If triphop beats merely compliment the untouched piano keys trickling like raindrops over the title track, ‘The International’ and ‘Kino’ are mini-resurgences of the Bristol-based subgenre; the first featuring taunt cello and jazzy snare-hits, the latter infused with an analog warmth reminiscent of early Mum. These songs are cool duvets for Autumn days, welcoming us into Matador’s somber blues, but they’re also elegant doses of style positioned to balance out Lewis and Ramic’s surprising soul. That ‘The Architekt’ is a masterful excursion into piano balladry – and a girl/boy duet at that – without abandoning its electronic edge guarantees a few dropped jaws, as does the no-names lyrical disclosures on ‘Simone’ that discreetly upgrade the duo’s songwriting chops.

To help push their trademarked sound of eerie synths, subtle piano and programmed beats forward, Lewis and Ramic enlisted some friends, including Ben Shepard and Catherine Worsham of Uzi & Ari, Tom Brosseau of Fat Cat Records and Shelley Short of Hush Records. Impressive as these contributing vocals are, the desire for change came from within and instead of coasting on their soft-focus nostalgia, Arms and Sleepers have added dimensions to their craft through emphasizing vocals and broadening instrumentation. For my money, the best example of Arms and Sleepers’ new direction is ‘Twentynine Palms’; professing tender lyrics against an electronic backdrop, the track grows into a strum-and-drum climax that feels increasingly organic.

Even among those aforementioned band-comparisons, there’s a ton of room for error: nowhere will you hear any of Boards of Canada’s psychotropic passages or Epic45’s muffled atmospheres on Matador. Yet like such artists, Arms and Sleepers have seamlessly stitched a mood-piece, unwavering in both its melancholic and sonic stance. To add my own likeminded artist to the ilk, this record borrows from the same vast pool of epic grace as The Album Leaf, instilling Matador with flourishes vaguely familiar of notable Icelandic bands like Sigur Ros. Hell, whomever Arms and Sleepers are comparable to, nobody’s liable to contest that they’ve reached a new level of songwriting on Matador and deserve the best of company.

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