The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Album Of The Week

Everything, Everywhere: Perfect Saviors By The Armed
Jared Dix , August 24th, 2023 07:17

The Detroit collective’s approach to widescreen rock proves as singular and explosive as everything else they do, finds Jared Dix

Photo credit: Nate Sturley

An intense-looking chap is busting out some choreographed moves on a street corner. He has a bandaged hand and what appears to be a head injury. He might not be OK. Although the music is upbeat he dances with a grim concentration that’s a little more emotional breakdown than it is spontaneous joy. He’s also watching himself through binoculars while lip synching “Let me hear those lies…”

Self deception as a form of self care. Dancing about your despair. A couple of weeks ago enigmatic hardcore cabal The Armed released this video for ‘Liar 2’, once again side-stepping expectations with an irresistible dance-punk tune of the sort arty New York types might have dreamt up twenty years ago. The most immediate thing the band have yet done, it teases an album, Perfect Saviors, that may be their most varied and accessible yet.

The Armed are a writhing barrel of contradictions and colourful misdirection. The dancer in the video is Dan Greene, a kind of band avatar who appears in videos and on record sleeves but does not record or perform live. It isn’t his real name either, although the band claim an unseen Dan Greene writes the music. In the previous video for ‘Sport Of Form’ he is again doubled and doubting himself. “Oh so perfect, self-aware / A curation unflawed”.

‘Sport Of Form’ alternates rapidly between tough synth rock and pastoral guitar. A minute-and-a-half in, a fierce burst of hardcore splits the song before returning to soft harmonies like it’s the most natural thing in the world. Julien Baker guests, adding her voice to the swooning sing-along of the final section. We cut to Dan as he awakens on a worn old porch and encounters Iggy Pop as God. Leaping to his feet Iggy beats his chest as the music swells on a power ballad tide and the choir sing a de-motivational hymn “Does anyone even know you / does anyone even care?”

Until fairly recently The Armed have operated almost anonymously and would seem inherently opposed to the deification of rock stars. However, one of the least troublesome of the band’s numerous statements is “We are a punk band from Detroit, Michigan.” So naturally Iggy is a God to them. It helps that his alter ego is Pop (it’s also typically perverse – but smart – to get such a big star involved and not have him record with them).

Perfect Saviors is The Armed’s arena rock album. Picking up where ULTRAPOP left off and concluding a trilogy begun with 2018’s Only Love. It furthers their mission to fold pop’s vibrant colours into their muscular hardcore and create something harsh and intense beyond the usual genre codes of ‘heavy’ music. Brighter and shinier, it’s still dense and overloaded but has more clarity. There’s less screaming and blast beats this time but they remain likely to cause alarm should they pop up on playlists alongside actual arena-sized rock and pop acts.

This summer they’ve been stress-testing this approach by opening for Queens Of The Stone Age, playing to half empty arenas of the early or curious. It’s the sort of tour that could help break a band to a bigger audience or simply break their resolve. The second outcome seems unlikely as The Armed’s commitment and self-belief is almost unsettling, even if their lyrics undercut it. A successful mainstream rock band with strong underground roots, Queens offer a clear model. Their guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen is among the innumerable occasional members of The Armed. He’s responsible here for some guitar and production, for the involvement of Iggy and of Jane’s Addiction rhythm section, Stephen Perkins and Eric Avery, as well as the band getting Alan Moulder in to mix the record.

Moulder’s magic touch adds a radio-friendly sheen to their chaotic maximalism, essential for what the press release calls a “sincere effort to create the biggest, greatest rock album of the 21st century.” The Armed don’t really do timid. Moulder’s impressive track record includes QOTSA, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Nine Inch Nails, The Killers and Shakespeare’s Sister but potentially Yves Tumor’s Praise a Lord That Chews… offers a more illuminating comparison in terms of their ambition to create something genuinely weird and inventive with mass appeal. The Armed are yet to produce something as huge, ridiculous and undeniable as ‘Stay’ or ‘When You Were Young’ but you have to hope that they will.

‘Everything’s Glitter’ is the album’s most stadium-friendly tune, signposting a potential future in which they lose their wild energy and curdle into bland success. Weighed down by the rock star myths it pokes “Am I a caricature? There’s just a little between God and Clown, I wanna be an idol that you adore.” It’s fine but it’s a bit like The Killers, only heavier. Their best songs are an exhilarating collision of melody and extremity. More hot mess than Hot Fuss. A disorienting, ecstatic noise. ‘FKA World’ heats up squealing guitars, soaring vocal lines and splashing drums. Everything up front, filling every sonic space. Always more of too much.

Iggy returns as ‘Modern Vanity’ twists ‘Nightclubbing’ and Bowie’s ‘Fashion’ into a loose prowl before descending into a rolling stream of screaming noise fits. On ‘Clone’ they splice 80s FM rock with mathcore. ‘Burned Mind’ broods before kicking off like a big beat party in a siren factory. Virtually everything ends with an accelerating race of frantic drums and wildly squalling guitar. Most surprising are the mellower moments at the end of the album. ‘In Heaven’ is a soft ballad of sighs with a smooth sax solo. ‘Public Grieving’ starts as a piano number before becoming busily upbeat. Its ascending sound achieves an easily palatable surface but there’s still a sense of disquiet below, like two songs playing at opposite ends of a huge space. It’s a puzzling and peculiar end.

Perfect Saviors may not be the smash hit that brings The Armed’s demented sports-noise to Midwestern arenas. Perhaps their next album does, perhaps they can't hit that level without abandoning the intensity and abrasion that makes them interesting. It may not even be the goal. One of this album’s key ideas is that we live life as a Sport of Measure, focussed on quantifiable achievements, when it should be a Sport of Form, judging success or failure more subjectively. It doesn’t follow that the more a record sells the better it is.

More subgenius than subgenre, the illusion of total conviction combined with absurdist games and obfuscation is a key part of their appeal. The idea they’re putting all that behind them is dubious. I suggest a visit to their new Vatican Under Construction website if you are still insufficiently confused. The Armed are a hyperreal assault on worn-out genre expectations and ideas of how a rock band exists or operates. In a world of interchangeable hardcore and metal bands that look like damp practice spaces and shit lager, The Armed are a funfair adrenaline spike. That alone is worth a little of your attention. They’re also managing to kick some life into rock’s Frankenstein corpse. Whether you find that thrilling, hilarious or appalling is a question of taste, but why not all three? Why not everything at once?