Arms and Sleepers – Life is Everywhere
by Emīls Vilcāns
Commemorating their 10th year together back in 2016, the electronic/downtempo duo Arms and Sleepers from Boston, Massachusetts are about and ready to drop their 6th LP – Life is Everywhere. Continuing their work in a similar fashion as on their previous – Swim Team, the predecessor still serves as a solid beacon of where the duo’s sound lies right now.
Three years since their last full-length release Swim Team (2014), the genre dismissive electronic/downtempo act Arms and Sleepers have come to, yet, another chapter on their sonic journey. Consisting of Mirza Ramic and Max Lewis (both formerly of post-rock band The List Exists), the duo is only a few days apart from officially releasing their anticipated 6th studio album – Life is Everywhere. Having started out with post-rock influenced track development and heavily based drum sampling mingled with electronic ambiance on their debut Black Paris 86 (2007), their works have a strong tendency of not staying at one place for long. Arriving at their most successful release Matador (2009), A/A/S press on mellow piano leads and focus on centered vocals, more than on any other of their releases. Landing their next album The Organ Hearts, the guys bring out their best efforts of combining pleasant IDm and trip-hop beats. Whereas their last LP Swim Team has already jumped into somewhat experimental instrumental hip-hop. However, even being a project that moves to a different zone with each album or EP, in a sense they all share something of the other, which is what hints of these works still being from the same virtuosos.
And what rooted as a magnificently colorful experimentation on Swim Team, A/A/S have now developed towards a more subtle instrumental hip-hop on their up-coming Life is Everywhere. Altogether gaining an urban, metropolitan sound to their downtempo’ish beats and loops, the tracks on the new album are somewhat more connected, comparing to their previous works. With the opener Chicagoland, a blissful, Alan Watts sampled and trip-hop beat driven track developed together with the Luxembourg based electronic/chillwave composer Sun Glitters (also featured on the albums co-production, mixing and mastering), suddenly cutting and jumping into Killshot, a song featuring the Washington D.C. based rapper/spoken-word ninja Airøspace, both tracks collide as if walking backwards through life clarifying moments – light in the sense of letting go, yet heavy in the dramatic outcome. Featured on 3 tracks altogether, Airøspace’s first appearance comes forth as hostile and attacking, with a sensible tremble in his voice. Yet, with the track Fall Asleep When I’m Dead, his style comes off close to the likes of Earl Sweatshirt right off the bat, also falling within the realms of Airøspace’s termed sad-hop. However, on the super downtempo’ish track Comedown Horizon, his expression eases, yet gets alienated with a low-pitch overdub mid-song that fades towards the audiovisual capture of the seaside for the outro.
Cartridge lowered and a soothing crackling sound underway, the ambiance grows onto the looped string orchestra as a base for the single Time Will Tell that electrifies a vision of tall skyscrapers passing one another. Adding a perfectly hip-hop influenced beat, the track gains a dreamy Sunday’ish vibe, only enriched by the added vocal samples repeating: “Day by day…I dream” and light piano touches. Mesmerizing by themselves, tracks like Can You, with it’s chill beat, surf guitars and heartwarming vocal sample-play, and Baby – with it’s continuous downtempo up-beat, wavily delayed synth details and a trembly voice sample, share a similar joyful feel to it, making you shake yer’ head whilst drowning in the sofa. Pan Am, on the other hand, turns out as a rather jungle’ish tune, with sampled conga, maraca layered under the beat and later on joined by to what sounds like an oriental flute for the melodic part, as well as Airøspace’s vocal company. However, listed down at the very closure of the album is the second featured artist – the Chicago based MC Serengeti. Adding his message on top of the tracks The Moon and Hollow Body Hold, he unfolds the story of Steven “The Dolphin” Moon, a determined 40 year old ex-convict making his way into professional athletics and creating one of the greatest underdog stories ever told, who also appears to be the step brother of Gary “The Whip” Worsh!
Holding 18 songs that add up to an hour of material, Life is Everywhere is the longest LP the duo has done so far. With the whole thing capturing an urban sound, the real inspiration behind it is Mirza Ramic’s sole encounters whilst on a 3 month fellowship in Chicago, in which he “…worked with underprivileged youth through a non-profit educational organization, many of them coming from the notoriously dangerous South Side.” Experiencing the huge contrast between the well-off north and the left-out South, the whole album serves as “an inevitable reaction to the deeply fundamental socioeconomic problems facing the United States,…“, Mirza reveals. Whether you pick up the political/situational meaning behind it or just enjoy it musically, the imprinted empathy behind these downtempo or dance provoking tracks is hard to overlook. However, being beat and loop based, the album at some points can’t help but get a tad tiresome, with more repetitive tracks like Which Way, You May Visit the Cosmos or the Pan Am follow-up Mañana, Mañana failing to keep the attention and falling to the background. Still, most of the tracks on the LP are enjoyably intriguing, colored with an album-stretched instrumentation variety, nicely escalated break-downs and hauntingly fitting vocal samples. All and all, Arms and Sleepers are definitely kicking the year off with a solid, somewhat heavy release, both pleasant for creating a laid-back atmosphere as well as putting up the thought provoking vibe.