After a good 14 months of not bothering with the (frankly ridiculous and also completely fucking uncompelling) countless conspiracy theories, I have finally found something strange to dig my grubby meathooks into. I’m so happy I, too, now have something I can rattle on about to anyone who will humour me in the pub.
Having as many members as a ska group, looking like a mix between Eric Andre’s house band, Street Sharks and an ASOS lookbook, Detroit’s The Armed have gone ahead and made the record of the year while simultaneously trolling, misleading and misinforming anyone and everyone whose taking an interest to them. No one is safe from their incredibly well thought out and put together videos, media stunts and surprise live shows worldwide. From strong-arming all kinds of weird celebrity choices to get in on the joke to crowdfunding for advertisement space in times square, The Armed have managed to come out swinging — pummelling strange industrial/metal/noise/hardcore like Slipknot and not even bothering with the masks and boiler suits.
I could do an entire article just worshipping how they’ve handled their business on the last three records — they’ve been around since 2009. Instead, I will condense the smorgasbord of happenings into one beautifully rambling paragraph to give yu the full perspective of Ultrapop. Rumours are, they might have been formed by Kurt Ballou of Converge, he definitely records all the music. They’ve had guest drummers on all their records, including Chris Pennie (Dillinger Escape Plan), Ben Koller (Converge) and Nick Yacyshyn (Baptists), while Urian Hackney, son of Bobby Hackney of Detroit protopunk heroes DEATH, is the current sticksman. It may seem like a strange ensemble but when you have “maybe 25 members” things can get a little hectic.
During the pandemic, while the world struggled to find its footing, the group employed a nutritionist to ensure they could devour any band that stepped to them. The Armed also manage to create a solar system of impressive stars around them. They convinced Tommy Wiseau to star in a video, have a song called ‘FT. FRANK TURNER’ which does, in fact, feature the singer despite him being totally unaware of how they got his vocals — they even got Snake from Metal Gear Solid to star in ‘AN ITERATION’. It’s fair to say that The Armed aren’t like any band you know.
Anyway, please excuse my deviation; let us get on with the review for their newest offering, ULTRAPOP. This album revels in excess, you know when you’re really tired and listening to music sounds sped up? This album managed that, the swells of synths, three-guitar harmonies and layered boy-girl-boy-girl screaming from (definitely) Cara Drolshagen and (maybe) Adam Vallely break up the standardised pro-wrestler shouting of hardcore and give everything a feminine quality that the genre has largely lacked in its entire lifespan. At times it sounds like shoegaze, maybe due to how hard it is to record that any instruments, sometimes it just crushes like Converge; sometimes, it spins out of control like a Daughters song. The Armed call it ULTRAPOP, which sort of makes sense, as you let the pop hooks soak into your brain, and it ends up making you think of MGMT or Tame Impala.
Much like everyone else, I’m still trying to make sense of the last year, and this album has become a soundtrack to me unpacking 2020. It sounds focussed but completely varied all at the same time. Certainly the same traits the anus mirabilis has laid on me. It sounds hopeful as much as it sounds bleak, smashes you over the head with a chair in one song, then sits and says sorry with you on the next. The atoms smash in a song like ‘AVERAGE DEATH’ where the programmed beats meet battered analogue drums. It’s stylish and completely tasteless, choreographed in its chaos and monolithic in its size and inspiration. On paper (and maybe two or three years ago), I’d have hated a record like this coming along, but now I can’t get enough of something this brash and also poptastic.
They have made a ‘post punk’ album that has genuinely kicked the ball forward, something that I previously thought was unthinkable after spending four years standing in a pitch full of PIL/Fall/Gang of Four worshipping badly fitting trousered dangly earring bros passing it to each other again and again, not letting any girls have a turn whilst simultaneously discussing how they can get more women involved in the sport and patting each other on the back for doing so.
ULTRAPOP is an album that exercises excess in every musical nod and direction it chooses to pursue. Guitar leads worthy of Queen, chaotic drumming like Dillinger Escape Plan, vocals like Nine Inch Nails, synths and breakbeats like Atari Teenage Riot and Squarepusher. It’s simply gargantuan, and when the band members have backs you can screen movies on, only the biggest and best adjectives will do for describing this triumph of current music, for fear of being suplexed through a table by keyboardist Clark Huge.
It’s a mammoth release that can only be topped by witnessing the lunacy in a live capacity. The UK tour can’t come soon enough.