Monday, March 16, 2009

A Pair of Past-Related Reviews; Part 3; Armor & Rage.

Cameron Audet has completed a new acoustic record, which will soon be available under the name “Armor & Rage.” According to Cam, this project also has a full backing-band based out of Boston, and records with expanded instrumentation might very well be coming soon. The current record is called “Pantie Melting Love Songs,” and I don’t have information yet about how and when a physical copy can be procured, but I’m guessing that, if you’re interested, bugging Cam through the project’s Myspace page might do the trick.

I’m not sure that there has ever been a record-title that has so blatantly announced that this reviewer is not in the intended demographic of the music contained therein as “Pantie Melting Love Songs.” I mean, don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind the title, and I think it fits the music on the record pretty well. But… as you may have guessed (let’s not make assumptions), I don’t wear panties, so there’s not much “melting” to be done on that front (if I DID, for some reason, wear panties every once in a while [no one‘s judging here] I still really doubt that Cam would want any part in making them melt.). Basically, the title makes it pretty obvious from the get-go that this record was not intended for a 26-year-old male who prefers vague, complicated metaphors to honest, sentimental professions of emotion. And he’s got it right. This is a record that is very obviously, and very thoroughly, intended for girls. Since I’m definitely not a young girl, this is, quite predictably, not a record that I could listen to every day for my own personal enjoyment. However, knowing up-front what I’m getting into, I can definitely appreciate it for what it is. As a sentimental record intended for a young female audience, this is a pretty solid collection of songs, and he seems to capture his intentions dead-on.

While I was listening to these tracks and jotting down my thoughts, I was amazed that every time I put my headphones down to step out for a bit, I had the chorus-hook from one song or another stuck in my head. “Pantie Melting Love Songs” turned out, with each listen, to be a FAR more incessantly catchy album than my first listen would have suggested. I’m pretty sure that my girlfriend thought I was losing my mind as I kept singing “I’m wanting to see you… You’re easy on the eye…” as we walked down aisles in the grocery store.

I was initially trying to think of how to write this review by somehow bypassing the almost inanely obvious Dashboard Confessional comparisons. After hearing the songs, my initial thought was that even MENTIONING the similarity would be trite, redundant, and do no one involved much of a service. Lets face it, the post-alternative music market is GLUTTED with former members of indie and emo bands’ acoustic side-projects, the reviews for which always and inevitably (and almost always accurately) contain phrases such as “like Chris Carraba at his whiniest and most melodramatic” or “like Chris Carraba at his most heartfelt and honest.” The Dashboard fan doesn’t ever gain anything from such reviews, because they’re tired of being inundated with knock-offs, and the Dashboard loather doesn’t gain anything from such reviews (besides the red-flag not to buy the record), because they weren’t a fan the first time around.

What I realized the more that I listened, however, was that avoiding this comparison would be just as disingenuous. Unlike many of its ilk, this record, rather than trying to downplay the influence as most of this sort of acts tend to try to do (i.e. let’s throw in a verse that sounds like Conor Oberst; lets toss in some Jets To Brazil-isms or an Eliot Smith rip to show that we’re ’keepin’ it real,’ etc.), Armor & Rage seems to make a conscious decision to fly headlong into this comparison, which seems somehow more respectable. There’s a certain “Yeah, I like Dashboard. So what?” aspect of the songwriting here that’s almost refreshing compared with many similar-sounding acts.

The recording of the record is lush and skillfully produced, at the same time that it is incredibly (and almost startlingly) intimate. The reverb on the vocal-harmonies (all of which are Cameron’s own, and well- composed) is shimmering, without being overwrought or cheesy. At the same time, the degree of sonic detail allowed within the mix is tangibly real, complete with the sort of sounds of fingers on strings and popping of breath that conjure images of the musician performing in a completely empty room of an abandoned old third-story New England apartment (which reminds me a bit of early Ani Difranco… in production only).

Where Cameron does tend to deviate (thankfully) from such unabashed Carraba-isms is in the way that his guitar-parts are constructed. The power-chords-on-acoustic strategy of Dashboard and other such post-indie acoustic “pantie-melting” holdovers is almost completely absent from these songs, leaving in its place moments when the listener might almost start to think he’s listening to an actual FOLK (or at least indie-folk) record. There are even a couple moments when the guitar-work (which is admirably far more attentive at most moments to rhythm and groove than to notes and chord sequence) almost reminds me of certain Dar Williams tracks.

In the song “Take Your Aim,” there’s a moment when a tidal-wave of added backing-vocals break through the mix, at a spot that doesn’t exactly seem to be a climax. Sitting in my apartment alone with noise-cancelling headphones on, the change was so abrupt and forceful that I jumped (physically) out of my seat, and thought that someone was behind me. The most surprising thing was, this continued to happen EVERY time the song came on. I have to admit, part of me enjoys this unexpected moment. If you’re drifting off a bit listening to these songs (which is completely feasible, but not totally a flaw, as Cameron’s sound and songwriting is soothingly consistent throughout), this is a bit of the record that will wake you up and force you to pay attention. I’m definitely personally a fan of aspects like these, but it strikes me as a bit out of sync with the otherwise apparent aim of accessibility evident throughout the record, and thus I get the feeling that it wasn’t quite intentional.

Overall, the stated goal of “Pantie Melting” of the new Armor and Rage record is admirably achieved. This is a stirring set of soft emotional songs, skillfully performed and recorded; a laid-back, listener-friendly pop record, with a ton of commercial potential as such. Cam’s chosen title for the record boldly asserts his awareness of the general truth that it is impossible to make a record that’s equally well-suited to every listener, and, with that in mind, this is most definitely an excellent release for its intended demographic, even if it may not be up my own personal alley.

1 comment:

OEF ARES said...

Well written. Not that I'm into "pantie melting", but I would probably give that to my little sister as a gift. Usually it's pantie ripping, ha ha ha.