Straw Man Army SOS LP
This is the second album by these members of the D4MT Labs family tree, and STRAW MAN ARMY’s branch has grown in considerable length and fruit since their 2020 LP. This is one of the first albums I’ve heard or reviewed recently that feels truly “post-pandemic.” Not in the sense of it being over (an obviously foolish way to think), but more so that it feels of its time, as a reflection and distillation of the feelings and varied collective traumas experienced since March 2020. The anxiety, isolation, unrest, grief, depression, and the front row center seat we’ve had for late capitalism’s corrosive and violent nature on local, national, and international levels. The songs on the record are surgically performed and spartanly recorded—there is nary a wild or unhinged moment, everything is carefully considered. The guitar, bass, drums, and vocals together sound like a tightly executed line drawing. Where the depth, dimension, and color of the album is revealed is in its details, especially the ambient moments that lead you between sides: the meditative synth washes, vibraphone sounds, and bird songs. They give a moment of breath and clarity, a palate cleanser between the grim realism of the songs. These moments and the pacing of the album creates an emotional build-up that follows anger, grief, despondency, and trying to stay empathetic and aware in a world that wants you to become callous and shut off. The songs embrace a mounting tension from the Escher staircase riffs of “Human Kind,” and the accelerating, decelerating train track rhythms of “State of the Art,” a criticism of modern progress and the myth of endless growth, sounding like a stock market bar graph as it rises and eventually falls. “Millenarian Man” is a brilliant merging of the the band and the musique concrète elements into a a truly NY state of mind, the vertigo of skyscrapers, the claustrophobia of crowds, the terror of police sirens. Then once all the confusion and anger of the world in the song becomes too much, they conclude the album with “Beware,” which begins melodic and vulnerable, but ends bitter and seething. STRAW MAN ARMY has created explicitly political music that isn’t phoned-in anti-everything anthems or simplistic catalogs of atrocities, but is a hard, analytical but deeply thoughtful and meditative look at this torrential time frame. SOS is an album that is about staring the nightmare in the mouth and realizing that we can’t just wake up from it or simply go back to sleep.