Reviews Arms Aloft Sawdust City

Arms Aloft

Sawdust City

When I speak of a “Kiss of Death” sound, I don’t mean it derisively. What I do mean is poppy song structures with powerfully belted lead vocals and strong guitars. It’s pop-punk, but with a little extra torque under it and maybe a secret passion for melodic hardcore buried somewhere in their basement cd piles from the early 2000s. Arms Aloft, from Wisconsin, is a good fit for the label. The primary reason that their first full-length, Arms Aloft is as strong as it is, is the distinct blend of influence that comes together with their own songwriting prowess. Lumping them in with their label is the comparison; what is most interesting is the distinction.

Ignoring the intro track, the record gets off to a fast start. “Irish Coffee” is one of the most memorable and catchy cuts off the record, and what DIY punk doesn’t get off on a refrain like “You’ve been eating nothing but cigarettes/ You’ve been drinking nothing but Irish coffee/ and it burns a whole through your stomach wall”? It’s got the grit; it’s got the melody; it’s got the lifestyle. Similarly, songs like “Sawdust City Soundclash” mine this terrain. If I had to pick an archetypical song to define the band, it would be this one, defined by a back and forth tempo that tugs at introspection without moping into ballad territory, but it also cuts into a high energy and positive expression in the form of a big chorus. The song manages the best of pop and the best of art: earworms and emotional connections.

As a whole, it’s the balance of these two elements that makes Sawdust City so infectious. At one moment, there are Dear Landlord-esque group choruses (“Skinny Love”), and the next there are Lawrence Arms-y tales of environmental conflict and within descriptive imagery. Yet, Arms Aloft really doesn’t sound that much like either of those groups. The themes run between celebration and exasperation, pulling together with a cynical-yet-looking-forward viewpoint, as voiced by “It’s Not the Heat, It’s the Headwinds’” “We might’ve finally kicked the chair out/ but at least we fucking tried.” The lyrics have a real focus on description and detail that builds character over the full course of the album.

Arms Aloft has previously released a couple of EPs, but with their first full-length here, which took nearly five years after their inception, it’s clear they’ve put in the work.

8.5 / 10Loren
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8.5 / 10

8.5 / 10

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