Ultrapop finds The Armed in peak form, cohering an onslaught of sound and influence into something of a new package for the mysterious group.
Detroit hardcore punk collective The Armed are something of a contradiction in terms, crafting intensely physical music that conveys its exertion from behind an iron curtain, with even the exact membership of the band intentionally obscured from audiences. Aside from a few known elements — like consistent producer Kurt Ballou of Converge — the Armed has guarded its anonymity closely throughout the years, even going so far as to hire actors to impersonate band members for the promotion of new music. This latter penchant certainly casts a pall on their new album Ultrapop, the announcement of which confirmed an official band lineup and declared the album as an attempt “to create a truly new listener experience.” Whether or not any of this can be taken at face value, or if it’s even germane to one’s appreciation of the Armed’s music, is one of the many fallacies destroyed in the wake of Ultrapop, which achieves a kind of purity in its brutalist, maxed-out assault on sense and sensibility. With Ballou now exec-producing alongside Chelsea Wolfe producer Ben Chisholme, and featuring several QOTSA contributors, Ultrapop was conceived with a stated intent to create “the harshest, most beautiful, most hideous thing [the Armed] could make,” and communicates infectious choruses and overwhelming feelings via the tonally extreme language of hardcore music.
Eponymous opener “Ultrapop” announces the group’s grand intentions succinctly, unveiling cavernous synths that are punctuated by bursts of harsh noise, and lyrics that describe digital age ennui broadly enough to be both epic and a little silly. Much of the album proper rides this line between authentically modern mood board and a parody of one; single “All Futures” is a pinwheeling, combustible track that seems to take unhinged pleasure from its bleak prognosis of things to come, while the thrashing squall of “A Life So Wonderful” stands in contrast to the numbness its narrator describes vis-à-vis vice and human contact. The sonic character of Ultrapop matches the broadened scope of its lyrical content, occasionally reminiscent of noise-rock group HEALTH with a dialed-down dance quotient, and elsewhere in line with the screaming musical embrace of once-rumored Armed band member Andrew W.K. For how overwhelming this might seem on paper, and — given the long list of musicians and producers who contributed to Ultrapop — how much detail is crammed loudly and quickly into each song, it’s surprising how natural this musical collision sounds in practice: ruthless and tuneful alike on “Average Death” and “Real Folk Blues,” and attaining torch song poignance on closer “The Music Becomes A Skull.” Though the Armed’s eyebrow-raising creative process and curious relationship with being seen are fun to think about, the group has created something with Ultrapop that merits serious consideration on its own terms.
Published as part of Album Roundup — April 2021 | Part 3.