Arms and Sleepers Bliss Was it in that Dawn to be Alive

[Fake Chapter; 2007]

Rating: 3/5

Styles: ambient electronic; trip hop; new age; progressive
Others: Enigma; Vangelis; Brian Eno; The Art of Noise

Arms and Sleepers’ debut EP, Bliss Was it in that Dawn to be Alive, is a stylish and laconic release containing seven tracks that fall somewhere between instrumental hip-hop and new age. The Massachusetts duo currently resides in Cambridge, a location which is perhaps a factor in the cerebral overtones that permeate the album. It’s a little too chilled-out to reside within the purview of dance music, but altogether too beat-heavy to be considered ambient. One hates to use the term “trip hop,” which now carries with it almost pejorative connotations, when describing a band’s overall sound, but it is probably a more accurate descriptor of Arms and Sleepers’ autumnal, atmospheric soundscapes than the only slightly more vague “ambient electronica.”

Bliss Was it in that Dawn to be Alive is a cinematic and largely engaging concoction that works as well as moody background music as it does introspective headphone listening. The EP’s rich-yet-modest, keyboard-driven environments feature complex, tasteful beat programming that highlights the atmospherics rather than acting as an intrusion. A subtle charm pervades the record, which abounds with mild undercurrents of shoegaze (and maybe even goth) that blur the musical tones into a gauzy, rainy-day grayness.

Although Arms and Sleepers tend to wear their influences on their sleeve, their music is a pleasant amalgamation of sounds that complement each other well without coming off as needlessly derivative. The record’s opener, “Beneath Bricks and Books,” sounds uncannily as if it could be an outtake from The Art of Noise’s The Ambient Collection, an album whose influence appears to factor heavily into the compositions of Arms and Sleepers. The track leads into “A Mission to Prague,” a piece which initially recalls Portishead before drifting off into eerily dissonant territory, rife as it is with ghostly wails and wordless vocals. A dose of melancholic horns heightens the tension and saturnine ambience of the track, which is one of the record’s strongest pieces.

“Arms/Sleepers,” on the other hand, recalls Enigma until the drums and keys are augmented by a lonely flugelhorn melody, some gorgeously subtle electric piano, and a wobbly bassline. The keyboards on “A Girl Named Clive” are reminiscent of Vangelis’ “Blade Runner” score and infuse the track with a heady progressive vibe. “Moscow Pop” is another noteworthy prog-inflected track featuring an intricately programmed drum pattern, which gives way to a richly noir-ish atmosphere that gradually coalesces around haunting horn and piano figures. The track, like the bulk of Bliss Was it in that Dawn to be Alive, is structured in a somewhat geometric manner by which layer upon layer of sounds are juxtaposed against one another, allowing them to culminate in ethereal crescendos of sonic texture.

The EP shows a great deal of promise for Arms and Sleepers. The band demonstrate a commendable ability to mix things up and temper their compositional style, reining in the beats when necessary and paring the arrangements down to a manageable size. Bliss Was it in that Dawn to be Alive is a nicely focused effort that glows with warmth and intimacy and carries with it a hint of mystery and intrigue.

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