Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Nick Krill and Jonathan Low
It's not necessarily the best place to start, when exploring the Philadelphia band The Armchairs oeuvre, but the live cut from Y-Rock, a program on their city's influential radio station, WXPN, that the band features on its MySpace page is certainly a place to start. Though it's not indicative of the group's overall essence, the song - or melt of songs "Deep Sea/Frogs In The Bogs" - lets us into the kind of odd, odd blitz of influences that come together to make an art rock piece akin to Nada Surf's albatross," Popular." It's a song that features singer Andrew Morris speak-singing some old, science book manual or textbook over music that seems to be determined on the spot, following his escalating and diminishing emotion. The text that Morris reads goes into the survival mechanisms and plans of attack of a very generic, all-encompassing group of animals referred to simply as "deep sea creatures." These could be many things and we get a real sense of the dog-eat-dog world in those oceanic depths in the hurried quality of his delivery and the shakiness of it as well, as he says, "Imbibe the flesh of a deep sea creature. Imbibe the flesh of a deep sea creature and gain longevity. Real longevity is dependent on how many deep sea creatures you can imbibe. The oil of a creature can help your brain function better. Most types of brain chemicals can be augmented by the oil of a fish. The oil of a fish has healing properties that extend far beyond science's recognition." We've been carted off to this place of utter astonishment, with Morris' inflections reaching a certain peak and then the rest of the band - Andy Molholt, Michael Chadwick and Mike Harkness - break into a song that trots along a little more, getting no less strange. It's the Armchairs' way to overstep the boundaries of what's deemed normal in indie rock and roll, getting to the points that they want to get to, not those that the audience might anticipate them getting to. It's selfish, in a way, but it's also extremely interesting as they make a youthful take on music that could be referenced to only in colorful metaphors of certain bands having sex together and creating all kinds of mutant offspring. There are times when we're hearing - not just in the prominent science bent of some songs - They Might Be Giants and then another song, such as "Bear! Bathes," begins in very classic, Zombies, "Odessey and Oracle" ways and ends with a freakout spazzing of the line, "Harrison Ford saving people from his helicopter." The Armchairs take on cues from early Of Montreal material, when Kevin Barnes was flighty and quirky and constructing songs from scraps, making a lively and suspenseful hodge-podge. One of the final bits of textbook that is recited at the tail end of "Deep Sea," is thus, "Your own type of energy can be named anything you want," and it's spoken with big effect and true giddiness, as if this is what should be striven for all along, something the Armchairs know a lot about: new types of energy that they can name whatever they damn well please.