Friday, October 24, 2014
Arm – “My Kind” from Universal Standard Time, s/t (2003 Heart of a Champion, 1996 band released 10″, respectively)


Saying a band sounds like the combination of two other bands is never completely fair and accurate (and we here at the Shuffler are, if nothing else, fiercely dedicated to fairness and accuracy in our reporting of music), but it may be instructive to at least mention Hoover and Drive Like Jehu as touchstones to help understand Arm‘s sound. I’m not sure if it was a consequence of timing, or geography (the band’s origins are in suburban Minneapolis, as I understand it), but Arm, to my mind, never got the attention they deserved.

Of course, in saying as much I need to confess a few things. I remember hearing about Arm for years. I have my origins in similar Minneapolis suburbs to that of the band, and for whatever reason, that particluar region (north and west of the city proper) really fomented a lot of alternative and punk rock types in the 1990s. There were basement shows, talent shows, concerts at YMCAs and other spots from North Minneapolis to Plymouth, including bands with names like Trinket, Bus Load of Worms Named Clarence, Gilnet, Plaid Invention, and more, all of them populated by kids mostly under the legal voting age. I attended (and participated in) a few of those shows, but never saw Arm. The story I always heard was that they were named Arm because they all attended Armstrong High School, but I don’t know how accurate that is. In any case, I had heard about Arm since forever, but took a while in realizing what a true gem they were.

And so I have some guilt, because it turns out that Arm was really, really good. Bassist Nathan Grumdahl would later go on to be in Selby Tigers and a million other projects, and drummer Bobby Drake to a little band called the Hold Study. Guitarist and vocalist Mark Sorvari seemed to employ a really cool alternate tuning. At least I think that’s maybe what was going on, but I’m not certain as my knowledge of the stringed instruments is poor at best. He later played in a band called In Corridors that I know even less about.

But I did finally get into Arm, way late, and am so glad that I did. I was surprised to learn today that the band was never on the noisy Minneapolis rock label Amphetamine Reptile. The songs on Universal Standard Time mostly appeared on a self-titled 10″ that I vaguely recall owning in the late nineties (and like so many other records, wonder why in the hell I don’t any longer own a physical copy). That was released in 1996, and seven years later the band released Universal Standard Time with five new (old?) songs on Heart of a Champion Records, run by longtime band friend Dan Cote (whose record collection was legendary even when we were both in high school — two different high scools, mind you, and didn’t know each other).

“My Kind” comes from the ten-inch sessions, and is as good an example of the band’s sound as any other track on the album. That is, of course, because the album is an incredible document of post hardcore (still fairly uneasy about that as a descriptor) goodness. Word on the street is that the whole thing was recorded in one day, described by some as a magic day, and that the band nailed everything the first time. You can hear this in a lot of things, but for my money, as a former drummer, I hear it in the cymbals. These are used to tremendous effect as the song builds to its crescendo. The combination of ride, crash, and then high-hat is incredible, and it’s the kind of thing that could have easily been lost in a much muddier mix. Sorvari’s vocals writhe over the top in a screamy DC indie fashion that is as melodic as it is raging (and are themselves pretty JeHoovian), and the band does what they did: played discordant, noisy, angular  indy rock that raged pretty full on, but with as much as restraint as energy, which really served to build to further energy and transmit that one magic day to future magic times. Like now.

If I have any influence at all, let it be to right the historical wrong that was done to Arm, and influence my internet minions to discover a gem. They’re not the first band one talks about when discussing post-hardcore or Minneapolis, but I’m not sure why. This album is pure gold.

This is not the song I wrote about: