Armlock - Trust [CD]
Release date: 4th June 2021
Catalogue Number: SOL27CD
Barcode: CD: 0653467393149
Genre: Experimental, Electronic
“In some respects, Trust is a simultaneous documentation of progression and regression. A homecoming of sorts, influenced by the interim where we developed our skills as producers and our skills as artists. Armlock, as a vehicle, seems like returning full circle to where we started.”
Trust, out June 2, 2021, is the debut release of Australian duo, Armlock. It’s a nuanced record that explores trials felt in personal growth, from resentment to submission to complacency. A quiet, thrashing gem of songcraft, the record makes as much use of the intimate, empty space as it does of its layered, heavy instrumentals. Each one of these songs conjures a summer storm of internal conflict, with the angst and uncertainty that comes with realizing that you’re finished growing, and rather than feeling a sense of ease you’re left restless and discontented.
Multi-instrumentalists Simon Lam and Hamish Mitchell met studying jazz together at Monash University in Melbourne. While rehearsing standards for a small ensemble in 2010, the two discovered their mutual hatred of the genre, opting to explore experimental, song-based electronic music. Alongside Solitaire Recordings owner, Dan Rutman, they went on to form the group I’lls, releasing four records in five years, and, later, the two went on to form Couture. Simultaneously, Lam (along with his cousin Chloe Kaul) found success with the synthpop group Kllo, amassing over 100 million streams on Spotify and critical acclaim from Pitchfork, The Guardian, GQ, NME, NYLON, and Stereogum. Lam’s solo project Nearly Oratorio (also on Solitaire Recordings) has achieved acclaim in its own right, as has Mitchell’s work as a producer and designer for artists like Jack Grace.
With their first release as Armlock, the duo maintains the depths of I’lls’ electronic soundscapes but brings the warmth of analogue instruments with Lam’s clear, disillusioned singing up front. He sounds both heartfelt and dejected in equal measure, with a dispassionate coolness that synergizes with the vulnerability of his lyrics. Live, the duo are backed by a reel-to-reel tape, with Mitchell on guitar and Lam singing, bridging their electronic past and indie present.
Trust began as voice memos passed back and forth between the two, with early demos being recorded when the pair lived together in Yarraville, Melbourne in 2019. It took a minute for them to find their songwriting stride after so much time spent composing electronic music, but the record came together while recording in Lam’s home studio in 2020. The band handled every aspect of Trust themselves, including production, recording, mixing, and mastering.
The sense of second-guessing and insecurity is at the heart of the record, musically and lyrically. Opening track “April” begins with Lam singing the lyrics, “Just when we were out of the gate/Honest to god I wanted to stay” over layered acoustic guitars. As the song builds, digital textures blink in and out of the background, Mitchell’s acoustic guitar working like a metronome until the drums finally come in. It’s a stunning moment, the band’s entire ethos presented in a song.
“Tabs” is a melancholic song about being in a relationship with someone who is doing a little bit better in life than you are. The song doesn’t pull any punches, with Lam lamenting, “I’ve got the losing touch/Wish that I kept tabs on all of the things that I wanted to have by now.” “Tabs” tackles themes of fear and shame, as Lam constantly wonders when his partner will finally see that he’s not enough. It’s a strained and distorted love song with a tenderness to the lilting melody, as a banjo and Juice Webster’s backing vocals rise at the song’s end.
“Turf War” is an ode to moving on without closure. A lowkey guitar plays as Lam sings, “Never spoke that’s how I fight,” nailing the way the things left unsaid often hit the hardest. There’s an essence of mixed feelings to the track, combining bitterness at the loss of the relationship with a thankfulness that it happened in the first place: “I loved when my fingers froze/I loved when we got the perks/I loved when we missed the flight/We were vengeful through the night.” The song ends with wordless harmonies over a soft but insistent drumbeat, accepting that things will continue on, for better or worse, with or without reconciliation.
The centerpiece of the record is “The Power of a Waterfall”. The song begins with acoustic guitar over a slow, trudging beat, with Lam’s vocals at their most disaffected. The chorus is among the band’s best, with Lam singing, “You’re a man/That’s what you said/Put food on the table and put sheets on the bed.” The song chronicles disappointment in the uninspiring expectations of masculinity and adulthood. The band describes it as being about “the general narrative of your adulthood that’s drilled in from a young age, and the relentless boredom that comes from fulfilling that prophecy… how mundane things cascade you into a kind of madness.” The result is a song that sounds disgusted and resigned all at once, as if there is no point in fighting against it any longer. Lam sings at the midpoint of the song, “Personal truth/Personal truth/The power of a waterfall.”
Even in its most poignant moments, Trust is ultimately a work of flailing and defeat. The record, beautiful but unavoidably heartwrenching, is one of questions rather than answers, none of which Armlock expects to resolve with any sort of satisfaction. But still, at least they’re asking them.
2. Two Sots
3. Turf War
5. Power of a Waterfall
7. Hanging Like A Pendant