Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Break Your Arm for Evolution

Posted By on Wed, Feb 13, 2008 at 12:00 AM

Is this album a self-inflicted test to see if de-evolution can be willed into being? An admission of futility in the face of a dearth of other options? An inspired experiment?

Well, as evidenced on SSM's second proper full-length — let's go with "all the above." The record starts simply enough, with a quasi-conventional rough house analog throwback stomper called "Déjà Vu." It's a Farfisa-and-"punk-as-shit"-monotone-vocals-led number that reels and spirals as it rocks along. After that, Break Your Arm... throws you in the deep water of wildly inventive, wildly unpredictable jams that alternately leave you stunned, dancing, bent, sweating or hitting "repeat" to try to figure out just what exactly they were doing on that last track. This is a rock record that could absolutely only be made by people from Detroit, circa now. SSM throw away the rawk rules here (although "Emotional Tourist" is a full-sprint, bleeding overdrive banger), remaining true to their subversive spirit.

After the woozy march of "Johnny's Holding for the First Time" (ha!), you get nailed with the first of the album's trio of centerpiece jams. "Start Dancing" kicks it off, hitting you with Morris intoning and then repeating the cryptic, downbeat refrain "Daddy won't leave/If you don't stop dancing"

Not content to merely pollute your buzz with introspection, the album's centerpiece trilogy then really takes off with "Marian." The latter's a post-post-industrial Madchester workout that starts with a sound reminiscent of hyperactive whales mating, before locking into the kind of groove the Stone Roses would have killed for — that is, the kind of swing that blurs the line between dance music, practice space rock 'n' roll freakout, mechanics and magic. It's good. It's that good. They then return to planet earth for the spacious robo-boogie of "Let's Make a Baby," neatly rounding out the libidinal conflict with lyrics that read alternately '60s garage naïve and then emotionally (and astrologically) warped.

SSM pump up the volume not simply to be loud, but to amplify a freaked-out perspective, chronicling the modern sound of a fucked-up place with as much honest idiosyncrasy as Joy Division did in 1980 Manchester, Os Mutantes did in Brazil '68 or, well, Black Merda did in 1970s Detroit. If anything, Break Your Arm For Evolution is the sound of enlightened craftsmen working their machines over, extracting sweat and bile, paranoia, swing and joy from the guts of organs, drums, guitars, digital toys and seemingly any other knob within reaching distance. As recorded by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, Break Your Arm is more immediate and forceful than SSM's debut album. That immediacy is in the songs, and this set is as fine and full of powerful strangeness and truth as any you're apt to hear. Now, go and get it at your local record shop.

Chris Handyside writes about music for the Metro Times. E-Mail [email protected].


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