Arms Of Kismet - Multi-Personality Order
There's no easy way to describe Arms of Kismet. Perhaps writer/producer/performer of the group, Mark Doyon, explains all in the band's title: "The moment holds you in its arms, but arms can be weapons, too. Life is a double-edged sword. What are you going to do with yours?"
Okay, you're right. That doesn't help explain what's on the new Cutting Room Rug, a sequel CD to 2004's debut, Eponymous. Post modern new wave with a self-satirical edge that treats the 1980s like a self-serving god, full of bubblegum angst and free- wheeling guitar riffs? Does that come a little bit close? Let's listen...
There is a reason "Auriculara (Listen to Me)" sounds like an Elvis Costello outtake. Check the opening gambit:
On a sidestep
You curled a snide lip
Maybe it's high time
Somebody looked you over
For bats in the belfry
Or cats in the clover
The alliteration couples with street-smart savvy, drenched in a melodic hook that swings at post-modern influences, daring to excite us back to the origin of rock without going so far as to inundate us with words more concerned with "you" and "too" rhymes. Attitude, baby. Plus the self-opinionated, self-parodying hijinks that The Monkees played with, and which The Who embraced without any alarm towards quality. The flippancy of the drums, the sting of the piano notes that refuse to flourish into full chords, the restrained/wild guitar break harkening to the '60s, all decades are covered with one quick track.
For those who refuse to bend for new wave or break for alternative, "Outbound Train" clicks the rhythm you'd expect for just such a title. INXS lovers will hear something in the clever, understated guitar work and simple poetry:
Hold on tight
Look up to the sky
The sun's a mirror
For your eyes
For those just coming down off a high or a high building, scan the reverb of "Coil" as it sinks like potent cough syrup into the dark recess of your infected mind. Shhh... singer Mark Doyon is whispering introspection like Walmart's got it on sale:
In this uncertainty
Hides a brighter, bluer day
That is what they say
But silence is security
If it keeps the wolves at bay
That is what they say
Dark blue guitar powerhouses into an anthem for the forlorn and forgotten, b-siding the upbeat wings of this album with a smooth tranquility that showcases Mark's promising songwriting skills.
Says the man, "I started writing songs and playing the guitar when I was 14. My guitar teacher was a bluegrass guy, so I was learning all these Appalachian riffs while cranking Clash and Sex Pistols songs in the garage with my band. That gave me a skewed view of genres, and helped me understand that boundaries aren't necessarily conducive to creating your own style. I play around with that idea on the new record, teasing 'roots' music while obviously loving it."
Hence, the eclectic influences of Lou Reed, Graham Parker, Warren Zevon, and Tonio K. Mark: "Sometimes people say Tom Petty, but that's really the influence of Dylan, Roger McGuinn, The Byrds. My stuff is rooted in The Kinks, The Who, and The Clash, and hangs out now somewhere near Beck, The Flaming Lips, and The Postal Service." When asked what he's trying to say with his music, Mark stated, "Depends on the song, but it's about perseverance, mostly. Life can be hard, but that doesn't mean it can't be thrilling and fulfilling and packed with possibilities. Revel in it. Laugh. Don't give up."
The sense of humor shows like an anti-REM beacon at times."You're going to have a hard time getting by without humor," says Mark. "It's a survival mechanism, a way to cope, and it can disarm or relieve you at a dark moment. Laughter can be equal parts happy and sad. Music without a sense of that is inarticulate in a way.... It doesn't acknowledge that taking ourselves too seriously could be amusing to anyone watching from the outside."
That probably explains why the man describes his wares as "brooding and poppy, funny and foreboding, it's toe-tapping, tragicomic rock 'n' roll.
"I try not to get hung up on methods. Good songs often aren't planned, and writing in a particular way -- by a certain window, with a certain pen, verse-chorus, verse-chorus -- can be more of a straightjacket than a help. I usually get an idea for a song, and write the lyrics organically as the music develops. They go hand in hand."
Obviously, forsaking that special pen and window seat is working for Mark. Eponymous was filled with "an off-kilter wisdom and warped melodies, a treasure-trove of idiosyncratic rock and roll" according to one reviewer, while Arms of Kismet itself thinks the music is getting "more comic, more playful, more conceptual in the way it's stitched together. A natural progression, though. The next one will probably be a little more sad and a little funnier."
So, Arms are hugging more shows later this year, after a successful tour of the eastern US states last year. So get out there and listen to the jam. As Mark says, "Smash your radio. Hang out on the indie fringes. Tell your friends. There's a galaxy of great music out there not being used in Jaguar commercials."