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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
»Deerhunter
Halcyon Digest
4AD
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
»Robyn
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Konichiwa
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Lisbon
Fat Possum
Subtle
ExitingARM
Lex

Rating: 6.4/10 ?


May 14, 2008
There are some things you come to count on in life. Your mother is usually right, you're eventually going to regret the haircut you showed off in your high school yearbook, and when Subtle puts out a new record they'll come out guns blazing, wearing their wonderfully weird and idiosyncratic sound right on their collective sleeve for anyone brave enough to listen.

Right?

Well, apparently it might be time to throw out the Indie Farmer's Almanac. On ExitingARM, their third proper album for Lex Records, the Subtle Six attempt to move forward by making an album that doesn't sound like it was written on a cocktail of amphetamines and LSD, instead employing a (comparatively) conventional attitude towards song composition. While they deserve credit for trying new approaches to their sound, the truth that becomes evident by the closing moments of "Providence" is that asking Subtle to write a normal pop song is like forcing Brian Eno to produce a Carpenters record - he'll do it, but the record's going to end up sounding kind of awkward. ExitingARM sounds like it was intended to be an experimental security measure to ensure the Oakland-based troupe doesn't make the same record every two years. Wanting to guarantee diversity each time out is an admirable goal, but going by the results given on this latest effort it feels as if Subtle put a shock-collar on their imagination and are afraid of playing to their strengths. Trademarks like swift, sudden shifts in mood and ambience and Doseone's spitfire lyrical delivery are occasionally present ("The No"), but are coated in a film of discomfort in their unfamiliar and pacified surroundings.

The biggest problem facing ExitingARM is that it never seems to shift gears. The title track that opens the collection poses itself as a low-key prelude to an album with the potential to gain serious momentum, but half-way through the album feels like it has been going nowhere, stuck on the same song for half an hour - and although it's a decent song, it's not nearly as much fun as the visceral freak-outs of "Midas Gutz" or "The Long Vein of the Law" (from their second and first LPs, respectively). The sense of adventure that propelled their previous efforts is replaced with slight indifference and impatience, leaving listeners hoping and waiting for a climactic knockout blow that never comes.

That's not to say there aren't highlights. "The Crow" soulfully eases through its running time, allowing its strong melody to shine often, balanced with a delicate amount of bohemian acrobatics that act as a counterpoint rather than a main attraction. The clear MVP, however, is "Day Dangerous," which victoriously pins down in five minutes the haunting, trippy pop that the rest of the album spends three fourths of an hour trying to achieve to mixed results.

For however much this album is worth berating, there's no denying that Subtle are an extremely talented group of musicians, and ExitingARM is not so much a fuck-up as it is a trial in exploring limitations. From any perspective, one can have nothing but respect for a group as creative as Subtle, who perhaps wanted to turn the amps down from eleven just for once to see how it sounds. Even though the results aren't legendary, there's no need for alarm - in the best of worlds, ExitingARM is a learning experience, and from it there's potential for an impressive next step. Subtle are too creative and energetic to be stuck in a rut for any substantial length of time, and I'll bet the farm and the cattle that if they stick to their guns and continue to challenge themselves it won't be long before they'll come up with something that will make some jaws drop. Until that day comes, however, I'd give For Hero: For Fool, their second album, another couple of well-deserved spins, cherry pick some of the highlights from this record at your digital retailer of choice and wait for the next round.

Reviewed by Dave Toropov
Introduced to music in the womb with a pair of headphones on his mother's stomach, Dave Toropov has yet to recover the experience. A writer based in Boston and New York, he has also written for Prefix Magazine and What Was It Anyway, and is the maintainer of the "Middleclass Haunt" blog.

See other reviews by Dave Toropov

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