Armor For Sleep
What To Do When You Are Dead
don’t have a beef with Armor For Sleep. I think they’re good at what they do. They’ve found themselves a style, it may be a grossly derivative style consisting of little more than brightly polished recycled power chords of the drop D variety, but it is a style nonetheless. Like many bands playing earnestly banal semi-derived emo schlock they’ve connected with an audience of disaffected youth who find comfort in their cranked up pop music and simplistic lyrics. I imagine Armor For Sleep shows (all ages, of course) are largely comprised of 13 to 16 year olds with their eyes squeezed shut singing every word to every song as if it was extracted from their very soul with a pair of rusty pliers.
I’d even say that Armor For Sleep have come damn close to perfecting on What To Do When You Are Dead the formulaic torch that’s being passed around between Midtown, Spitalfield, My Chemical Romance, and Juliana Theory. The shouted choruses, hooky melodies, loud guitars, repetitive riffs have been polished to an immaculate sheen, all rough edges gone, sanded to a formica smooth slickness by producer Machine which is a bit odd since his knob twiddling is usually associated with harder bands such as White Zombie and Lamb of God. What separates What To Do When You Are Dead from every other record in this genre is that it’s a concept album.
It even seems a noble idea that Armor For Sleep is willing to put together a set of songs exploring a single idea. Of course this is before you hear the idea: a cycle of songs that explore the feelings, faded relationships, past regrets, and probable causes of (have you guessed it yet?) a dead guy. Perhaps said dead guy got that way through suicide or accident or something more malevolent, but the important thing is that such an emotionally obvious stage serves the shouted choruses and anguished verses of lead singer Ben Jorgensen very well. Every song seems imbued with some deeper meaning when it’s been sung from the perspective of a dead guy: singing to ex-girlfriend, visiting brokenhearted family, considering irreparable regrets. It’s not subtle, it’s more like a death by bludgeoning.
The thing that gets me about Armor For Sleep is the whole industry that sells such bands as some kind of punk or hardcore offshoot. Armor For Sleep is not punk. Armor for Sleep is not hardcore. It’s deeply insulting for websites, ‘zines, and publicity people to make suggestions that somehow the band has roots in those genres because the riff in the chorus gets turned up real loud. This is pop music, simple and focused. It’s aimed directly at a calculated demographic determined by thousands of dollars of market research. It’s honed to a fine point, loaded into the sling of proven results and hurled with alarming accuracy at the heart and soul of suburban junior high school kids. And it’s expected, nay counted on by the enormous metaphoric cash registers of the music industry, that this broad swath of impressionable ears will inevitably be taken in by the smoothest, shiniest stone left in their path. That stone coupled with an overly dramatic video, a tour with an already established band, and movie star good looks should equal many units moved.
Armor For Sleep tries to differentiate their music from that of their myriad brothers in arms by adding light touches of electric piano (“A Quick Little Flight”) and hints of electronica (“Basement Ghost Singing”) here and there. But despite these instances of creative instrumentation (well, creative for the genre) the music never really rises above the pedestrian. It’s true that not every record that comes out has to rewrite the grand old book of rock songs, but fer crissakes at least stop cribbing the same old pages. Don’t you know that you’re all going to have exactly the same answers? Someone’s bound to notice eventually.
All of this doesn’t mean that What To Do When You Are Dead is completely irredeemable. The artwork is good. The CD comes with a clever little booklet called “What To Do When You Are Dead: A Comprehensive Guide to Your Afterlife” that’s composed of hyper-realistic drawings of the type found in airplane seatback pockets instructing you towards emergency exits. It’s clever and funny and little bit creepy. If only any of those adjectives could be leveled at the music on What To Do When You Are Dead.
Reviewed by: Peter Funk
Reviewed on: 2005-04-26