2021 • ROCK/EXPERIMENTAL • SARGENT HOUSE
On their fourth album, Detroit-formed The Armed seems to regress to their early career stage, delivering a total amateur record.
If The Armed, the previously anonymous American hardcore punk group formed in Detroit, could define their latest album, ULTRAPOP, as a painting, it would be called Man Holding Fish at the Market While Other People Walk By. That was what Adam Vallely, the lead vocalist and guitarist of the group, told Apple Music. Also, he explained the purpose of their newest project, “We wanted it to be bold. We didn’t want it to be an allusion to anything. We just wanted it to be what it is,” and, finally, revealed their identities. But, at the end of the day, all these movements and changes that the group made on the structures and roots seem purposeless since ULTRAPOP, the band’s fourth album, is too weak to require or deserve these kinds of things.
Considering the point in their career in which the band encounters itself, ULTRAPOP appears as their weakest project so far. Since their first album, 2009’s These Are Lights, they were only delivering better and better songs, reaching 2018’s Only Love, in which they mixed screaming hardcore with synthesizers and melodic pop hooks. But, in ULTRAPOP, they break this line by presenting a record that is full of either bad mixed tracks or just forgettable ones. In other words, they not only lose all the progress they made in the last couple of years but also regressed to a point where they sound like an amateur band that is putting out their first record.
ULTRAPOP’s biggest problem is its sound aesthetic. Almost all the songs on the album have some experimentation or nice and different elements that would bring a certain charm to each track. But, that doesn’t happen since the way the group works their sound doesn’t take total advantage of it. To put it clearer, these sound embellishments rarely impact the listener since they are always muffled by synthesizers or strings solos that are so loud and aggressive that leave no space for these other sounds elements to perform. The best example of it it’s the title track, in which we have some nice and dreaming vocals and synthetics that are constantly obfuscated by other synthesizers that are louder and rougher. Although the lyrics are nice and it is still a relatively good song to kick off the records, it didn’t escape the worst mistake that the band made in this record.
Ironically, it’s these little details that made one song differentiate itself from the other. So, if these details are almost always subjugated to other more generic sounds, almost all the songs sound almost the same. Look at this sequence: “Faith In Medication,” “Where Man Knows Want,” and “Real Folk Blues.” Sure, each track has its peculiarities, but they are so subtle and sometimes imperceptible that, in the aftermath, they make no difference. Furthermore, the lyrics of it also don’t perform an important role since most of them are almost inaudible. Look at “Masunaga Vapors,” where the band tries to tell the story of Stéphane Breitwieser, a french art thief, but you just can’t understand what they are saying because of the way they sing, but mainly because of the whole mess of effects that press the vocals and the lyrical content down. In short, the songs in ULTRAPOP hardly show something different that allows you to identify each one, and when it does, you rarely hear it.
On the other hand, we still have some good cuts in here. Alongside the opener, “Ultrapop,” which, besides its flaws, is still pretty decent, “A Life So Wonderful” and “An Iteration” also appear as good spots within the record. Both of them have clear influences from 2000’s garage rock, with catchy hooks, memorable transitions, and pretty usual song patterns, even though they still suffer from this muffled aesthetic. Later, “Bad Selection” is the most ambitious track on the record. Working with what seems to be a mix of several other songs and genres, the song features disturbed vocals, insane and mind-boggling synthetics, in addition to being well-dosed and well-directed. “Big Shell,” by its turn, it’s the point within the record where it gets to its loudest point, with strong vocals influenced by metal and post-hardcore and overwhelming instrumentation. However, these isolated points don’t pay off the rest of the tracks that you probably won’t remember tomorrow.