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Album Review: ARMS – Summer Skills

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When guitarist Todd Goldstein first moved to Brooklyn in 2004, he started ARMS to keep himself musically busy. After Goldstein joined the Harlem Shakes in 2006, ARMS fell to the wayside as a side project, releasing just one album in 2008 and a few singles/EPs mixed in. While Harlem Shakes disbanded back in September 2009, Goldstein has only just now brought ARMS back to the forefront for the project’s sophomore LP, Summer Skills. Though they may be another indie rock act in the sea of BK, Goldstein and company know how to set a mood.

Moodiness and indie rock have always gone hand in hand, but something is decidedly different when ARMS emote. Take, for instance, album opener “Emily Sue, Cont’d”. A hill of cracked-sounding noises becomes a mountain of rollicking, guitar-driven rock that, while grand and swelling, is almost cliched in how basic it is. Yet there’s a musical X-factor about the cut, something that instills a sort of worried, frightened adulation in the listener. That feeling spills over into “High Heels”, with more simplistic instrumentation spun brilliantly together to make any listener feel simultaneously agitated and positively bubbly with joy. That emotional dichotomy isn’t rare, but ARMS does it with lethal efficiency.

The four-piece’s ability to pull our heartstrings so well stems from their subtle sonic shifts. “Glass Harmonica” and “Curtains” are, respectively, album tracks nine and 10; however, their shared sense of isolation is enough to blend together for one emotionally exhausting tale. Thanks to tiny nuances and seemingly unimportant musical choices, the band can still somehow set them apart from one another. Both received a sheen of electronic, effect-laden ambiance, but how those are implemented, more sparingly in the latter and with kid gloves in the former, makes all the difference.

Harlem Shakes’ breakup may have been bad news, but with ARMS getting a chance to thrive, at least there’s a silver lining that will continue to shine bright.

Essential Tracks: “Emily Sue, Cont’d” and “Curtains”

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