Red Arms new album Critical State is a collection of calculated and precise rock songs that demands to be cranked on your stereo.
London’s Red Arms new album Critical State is a little more radio friendly than they’d probably like to admit. Although the requirements for a degree in indie and punk-cred can be heard throughout these tracks, the songs have more happening than mere mimicry. Critical State’s 10 tracks showcase Red Arm’s ability to utilize their appreciation from seminal acts into inspiration for creating their own sound and identity.
Opening track, Post Punk is a bursting showcase of turbulent aggression that reminds me of Hot Snakes but, with an added grande-garage-rock style of The Hellacopters. It’s loud in all the right places. The bass and guitars chug and squeal. The drums are intricate and booming. Roberto’s vocals are strong and enthralling. If I have one point of criticism, it’s that exact lyrics are sometimes difficult to make out between the layers of vocals. Hopefully vinyl copies include a lyric sheet to fill in the few gaps because, what I can hear clearly are emotional descriptions of frustration, anger and despair.
That being said, hearing just one tune from Critical State and basing your opinion of the band or the record on its own, is a disservice to what Red Arms have created. Other stand-out tracks like My Failures presents a loose swagger like that of The Replacements, My Failures uses a wall of guitar feedback to great effect and, All This Noise employs the uncomplicated melodic rock of Guided By Voices. Each and every song gets better with increased decibels and supplemental listens.
My favorite track Midwinter didn’t immediately stand out as a classic. It was during further listens of the record when the piece revealed itself to be a subtly different beast from the rest. Where most numbers on the record burst out of the gate to grab your attention, Midwinter has a careful accession of instrumental introduction that builds tension in a very dramatic way. The harmonic anxiety synchronizes with the lyrics and vocals into a unique crescendo, propelled by a frantic and stunning performance from drummer Jay Westman in the final 15 seconds. Excuse me. I’m just going to listen to it again.
Okay, I’m back…
Recording, D.I.Y. Style
Recording duties were handled by the bands own Roberto Lorusso between spring 2017 and summer 2018. His recording style is clean and blemish free. Studio gimmicks or extemporaneous embellishments are sparse if used at all. Instead, we hear hints of pop-punk polish that remind me of the production style on big-label releases from 90’s bands like The Doughboys and Face to Face. Albums where the distorted guitars and shouting vocals are loud but, mixed in a manner to avoid abrasion. Either Lorusso who recorded it or Kyle Ashborne who mixed it, was careful not to color outside the line.
Red Arms co-lead vocalists Roberto Lorusso and Eric Longtin were kind enough to answer some questions about the album:
Engineering your own album can be a gamble. Were there any times during the recordings that either confirmed you had made the right decision or, an incident that made you second guess the plan?
Rob: We were very confident about recording it ourselves but we felt that bringing someone else in to mix the record would give a fresh and objective set of ears to get it right. We worked with Kyle Ashbourne and he TOTALLY got it. He really understood our style and it didn’t hurt that he was also a very close friend of ours. It was a great experience! From my perspective, working with Kyle was an amazing learning experience from a fellow engineer’s perspective. I learned a ton from him!
Eric: Red Arms started out as a studio project in 2013, so we’ve been in our comfort zone doing it ourselves all these years at 11th Hours Studios. Deciding to work with Kyle from The Sugar Shack and spending numerous hours per song on the mixing process, brought our songs to life.
Why did you choose Critical State as the album title?
Rob: We wanted to capture the urgency of this record. Both lyrically and from an existential perspective of this band. We’ve been a band for some time, and it’s taken a very long time to finally get this record done. We really felt some internal pressure for sure.
Eric: Once I created the artwork, I wanted to highlight and reflect on the themes found within these songs. There are a lot of serious topics on this album.
There seems to be a trend away from releasing full-length albums. Why did you choose this format?
Rob: Probably because we’re old school, TBH. Also I’ve never had any of my previous projects release full-lengths on 12” format so I’ve always wanted that. I’m pretty excited that this finally got to happen!
Eric: Since we were working with Yeah Right! Records and that they specialize in vinyl LP releases, we thought it would be a good idea to do a run of records. We also had not released any new music since 2016, which was only two songs, so we had a lot to say. We do, however, see the value of releasing strong singles. Many of our peers do it that way, and it’s amazing to see them flourish.
Have you noticed people moving towards local and independent music?
Rob: It’s kind of mixed to be honest. I think for physical media, there is definitely a push to support local stuff, but I think that has more to do with convenience. Streaming services save you a trip to the record store, but if you’re out at a show then it’s pretty easy to grab a copy at the merch table. But that is not the only motivation. There are plenty of folks that are really invested in their scene and go out of their way to support you. There is something to be said about the emotional connection you get between supporters and their local musicians / artists.
Eric: I think people have always supported independent musicians, especially within the local music community. With a renewed interest in record collecting, people want the tangible item they can listen to at home.
Critical State is available on limited edition Vinyl your local record store and digitally on Bandcamp.
A release party for Critical State is scheduled at Rum Runners in town on October 11th to celebrate the album. Joining Red Arms on the bill are Stuck Out Here from Bayfield ON, local acts Averages and, Thunder Queens. Tickets for the event are $10 and are on sale now at Grooves Records and LMH Box Office.