Before I give my decree of quality to this album, Some history on my musical relationship with the arms, and the L. Arms own past releases.
Asian man records is big on an incestuous band roster. Slapstick broke up and the new bands got signed, the broadways, and Tuesday break up, and so on. From the big 'split' of mainly Slapstick and Broadways, came the holy trinity. The Lawrence Arms, The Honor System, and The Alkaline Trio (give or take some members going to other than these 3 bands).
Now, this three headed hydra is comprised of 3 bands that are so very different and unique from one another, yet at the same time you cant listen to all three without noticing some shared undercurrents as to song tempos, lyrical themes. Each has its own take on the basic underlying foundation. Its impossible to lay down concrete items of difference or similarity between these bands, but the alk3 tends to have a certain lyrical angle while the L. arms(more jawbreakeresque[though that doesnt do them justice]) and honor system (a political undertone to some songs) have another. The best way to explain is to say they are a three sided coin.
The Lawrence arms past releases go as follows. The first LP 'guided tour of chicago' was primarily full of Bren's songs (the one with the gruff voice), and was good but nothing amazing (diamond in the rough). Then the 'Ghost stories' LP, with a better balance between Chris (the cleaner vocals) and Bren's songs, and overall better songs. This was what got me to pay attention to the Arms, and lyrically, this album is perfect, and beats the shit out of the theatric alk3 lyrics.
At this point I thought they weren't perfect but if they kept improving with every release they would get there.
So as most have written about their split CD's, so will I. After 'Ghost stories' they released two split cd's. The first being with shady view terrace, and the latest one being with the Chinkess. The splits weren't hampered by the challenge of consistency with the low amount of songs involved, and the Shady view terrace split finally had someone produce the album that let you HEAR THERE FUCKING VOCALS! And after that great split, they came out with the chinkees split much to my and collective amazement. The four songs on there are possibly the best Lawrence arms songs out there. The production is the best on all the releases, and the mixing in prticular lets you hear what you need to.
Present day, "Apathy and Exhuastion" is released. How does this fare with past records, and expectations?
As to competing with past records, its easily and fully the best full length they have put out (consistency once lacking is not a problem here). To say the split with the Chinkees is better takes away the length factor, more songs inherently is going to mean a longer experience is going to be needed to listen to it, and appreciate there songs. This records power, and why it is better than their split, and the best record theyve done, is that the split songs referred to commonly as being 'hits' (god knows why) hit you. They came out and grabbed you. Part of this can be attributed to the nature of EP's to be short and sweet.
"Apathy and Exhaustion" gets its strength in that it isnt a quick shot of energy, but a consistent and dynamic flow of song tempos, styles, and nuance. It isnt an all at once smack in the face, its the slow and subtle erosion of your soul and body over the course of a two year premeditated scheme to KILL your pathetic bad taste in music. This record has been better on EVERY repeat listen. They dont hit you all at once, but sink in. Where an average song once stood, I began to notice the cadence of the vocals, or the overall play with mood.
The first three songs open it up, and by the bridge of 'Navigating the windward passage" its a decent record. Its in the 4-9 middle stretch that pops one after another. "Your Gravest Words" anemic verse builds up to the swelling and cold chorus declaring,
"I am a sattelite never getting signals right, You are a constellation, I can barely make you out tonight, the city lights are burning too bright"
With "Brickwall views", Chris' voice returns and gives more of what "Your gravest words" and later "Right as Rain" hold. The song is more structured and built up than old Lawrence arms songs, and is sung in a more harmonic way than we've seen. The break in the song, and return to the last verse,
"Is there a gesture I could use to clearly express I'm at another loss for words"
makes this my favorite song on the disc.
Two of Bren's songs "Ill take whats in the box monty", and "The corpses of our motivations" feature new song elements for the arms, a rocking breakdown at the end of "monty", and in "Corpses", a quiet break with strummed guitar in the background in the middle of the song with Chris' vocals rejoining with,
"Sleep all day, drink your life away, its another step closer to the comfort of the grave"
before Bren's vocals and the guitars crash back in.
Lastly, I want to point out in "Boatless Booze Cruise (part 1)" and "Right as Rain (part 2)" the recurring theme of forgetfullness that echoes the great last line "I wish I could remember what i'm trying to forget" from "A boring story" on the Shady view terrace split. In "Booze Cruise" bittersweet chorus which in text is lacking Bren's great rhythm in the delivery,
"dont forget to forget you forgot me when I show up at your door, I'm going to remember that you are my friend, and fall asleep on the floor"
And once more in "Rain"s chorus,
"Scavenger Savior, dont forget to never remember, you haven't laughed in such a long time".
Its in this way you can start to wonder why the songs are part 1 and part 2.
All in all, a great album, meeting my expectations and more. Both songwriters I feel stepped up, and matched each other's songs. I'm looking forward to the bsides from this album which I'm sure will pop up on this years fat comp. and elsewhere. If you only marginally like this record at first (me for instance), give it 3-4 more spins in a different place, and little by little, you'll be driving 2 hours home listening to this over and over(me again).