December 16, 2009
2009 | Gigantic Records
Kids Aflame, the debut record from Brooklyn group Arms, is an upbeat, shiny slice of capital-lettered Indie Rock, and reminds the listener of this fact with every note. While its lyrics treat a range of subjects, not all of which sparkle with the good-time haze of the album’s music, the overall impression is of a forced smile—technically flawless, if spiritually flaccid.
The cleverly-titled but mostly non-musical opener “Sabretooth Typist” is merely a prelude to “Whirring,” which sets a pattern that will prove difficult to break for the rest of the album. Cheery pop instrumentation (complete, on this song, with a quiet guitar/jingle bell interlude) is the rule, while singer Todd Goldstein’s voice glides smoothly over the top like a young lounge singer’s, delivering ever-so-slightly sneering social commentary packaged with a retinue of ooh’s and aah’s. The guitar riffs that drive the song are pleasant and catchy enough, if ultimately not too memorable, and the percussion stays politely in the background, offering only the slightest of kicks when necessary to keep the song moving.
The vocals start inducing motion sickness on “Construction,” where Goldstein’s nasal delivery slides languidly from end to end of the major scale while quiet guitars and near-nonexistent percussion shuffle around trying to look busy. The jingle bells are still here, now joined by a few hand-claps. It’s enough to almost make you want to pinch the song’s cheeks, until the vocals slimily chime back in.
The title track continues in the nauseatingly precious vein, with strummed ukulele echoing over warm harmonica-like programming and Goldstein’s whiny, unctuous lilt interrupted by sunny arpeggiated nonsense syllables. This song has some staying power, with its catchy melody and general unrelenting cheer, but repeated listening induces tooth-grinding unless you’re prepared to throw yourself headlong into the album’s grating, near-senseless positivity.
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compiled by Max Sebela