Review Summary: A supremely confident second album from a band who clearly know what they're doing.
Crazy Arm’s debut album ‘Born to Ruin’ was brilliant- so brilliant in fact that the conclusion of my review stated how it was ‘hard to see how the band could improve on their current formula’. That was probably a stupid piece of hyperbole on my part, but in a way Union City Breath
has proved me right. For as much as the band has taken a step forward here, they’ve also moved sideways and simultaneously broadened their horizons- think of it as an extra long diagonal stride to the left. Let me explain.
While the band has always been strongly influenced by folk and country as well as punk rock, these aspects of their sound have been pushed further into the spotlight on Union City Breath
. This should be of no surprise to anyone who listened to the Ambertown/Sweet Storm single last year- the latter of which was an acoustic ballad featuring the vocals of Vicky Butterfield as well as a heavy use of the banjo. Both of these elements return, while the evolution has continued further with Patrick James Pearson adding keys and fiddle to the mix. The expanded instrumentation and greater emphasis on non-punk influences really add dimensions to the Crazy Arm sound, creating an even more sprawling and diverse record than before. For instance epic lead single ‘Tribes/Animals’ cites Springsteen, Arcade Fire and Hot Water Music as influences; while album closer ‘White Canyon’ is a self-confessed homage to alt-country band 16 Horsepower. And this is why the album comes across as a sidestep- the band are still attacking the same general sound, only this time from different angles and with new weapons.
In doing this, however, the songwriting has moved towards a more accessible and less proggy style: there are still many interesting structures on show with plenty of twists and turns (the aforementioned ‘Tribes/Animals’ for instance), but the choruses seem a bit more noticeable on many tracks. This isn’t necessarily a criticism as the shorter tracks help create a smoother flow to the album, but some listeners may crave the atypical punk songwriting from Born to Ruin. A quick mention should also be given to Peter Miles’ excellent production job, once again allowing every member of the band to shine whilst still sounding stadium-ready, yet never over-polished.
Anyone who has seen the band live will be aware of the politics at their core, and this time around Darren Johns’ lyrical approach is a great deal more politically aggressive. The haunting acoustic cover of Peggy Seeger’s ‘Song of Choice’, an anti-fascist song brought up to date in the final verses with lines such as “those Nazi scumbags must never take command/the BNP will never get to rule my land” is the most open; while the dark and brooding ‘200 Pints of Blood’ laments the continuing existence of far-right extremism. However, Crazy Arm are at their best when combining these politics with a more personal and introspective point of view- ‘The Endless Carriage’ deals with the conflict between ideals and selfishness, and lines such as “I’m wondering and wondering/I’m lying here just pondering/How far will I be fit to walk/How far am I prepared to go"” are sure to ring true with a lot of listeners.
In press releases groups often fall back on the old cliché of being impossible to pigeonhole, but in the case of Crazy Arm I genuinely struggle to think of a band that sounds much like them. This album is a supremely confident follow up to one of the best albums of the last few years, with confident being the key description. The band seems in total control of their sound and Union City Breath
demonstrates just how crowded with strings the Crazy Arm bow is becoming.