Armor for Sleep - The Way Out is Broken
Record Label: Sire
Release Date: September 8, 2008
Let me begin by saying that I am Armor for Sleep's biggest fan. I have all their CDs. I have all their songs. My screenname is a lyric from one of their songs. My avatar and signature represent them. I love Armor for Sleep. Many may call this pathetic, devoting so much love and admiration to a band most people don't care about anymore, but, like that frat boy who's secretly attracted to the football captain, I can't help who I love.
Like many people who enjoy Armor for Sleep (or at least used to enjoy them), I thought their Equal Vision debut Dream To Make Believe was complete perfection. Then my New Brunswick boys wrote What To Do When You Are Dead, and the definition of perfection had to be rewritten to include this beautiful work of art -- nay, masterpiece! But of course, Armor for Sleep fell through the cracks with Smile for Them, which was a step down in the eyes of many of their fans and reviewers. Even, I, their biggest fan, was disappointed with some songs on their Sire Records junior release. I think many listeners were so impressed with What To Do When You Are Dead that Smile for Them, while not a bad record, appeared mediocre in comparison with Armor for Sleep's two previous records. "I understand there are going to be some fans so tied up in [What To Do When You Are Dead] that they can't see past it," says frontman Ben Jorgensen about people's disappointment with Smile for Them. The next question on everyone's minds (or at least everyone who cared) was "What next?"
A few supporting tours and angry messages to AP later, Armor for Sleep have finally released a small collection of songs that Jorgensen calls "the greatest album ever made." But does The Way Out Is Broken actually stand up to Jorgensen's assertion? Will it rekindle the dying flames of appreciation most people had for this band? Will it redefine good music as we know it?
In short, no. This EP will not garner Armor for Sleep any new fans. In fact, it may even pinch out that last little tongue of fire many have in their hearts for this band. Rather than returning to the material that everyone liked, Armor for Sleep continued on with their evolution from Smile for Them. Many of the tracks sound like Smile for Them b-sides (track 5, "The Way Out Is Broken," actually is one). There aren't any more dreams or ghosts, and Armor for Sleep has gone back to singing about "normal stuff" like disdain, innocence, and attraction. The Way Out Is Broken definitely feels like a continuation of Smile for Them, so if you didn't like that album you won't like this one. If you did, however, enjoy Smile for Them, especially songs like "Hold the Door," "Somebody Else's Arms," and "Run Right Back In," then you may actually thoroughly enjoy Armor for Sleep's final attempt at rekindling their popularity.
As the intro to "This Abyss" suggests, this EP is filled with crunching guitars which carry hooks well and form the backbone to many of the songs. Guitarist PJ DeCicco definitely stands out more here than on any previous release, and this change is no doubt for the better. His ability to create an entire mood for a song as he did with older favorites like "Dream to Make Believe" and "Car Underwater" shines again, particularly on "Know What You Have." Drum and bass have always been substantial with Armor for Sleep, but any improvements in drummer Nash Breen or bassist Anthony DiIonno are shadowed by DeCicco's skill. Jorgensen's vocals, however, are much whinier than usual and don't produce the sense of honesty as they did on Armor for Sleep's first two releases.
"This Abyss" and "Vanished" are two very solid songs that grow on you with repeated listens. "We'll Own the World" is a low point on the EP, coming off at first like a Saves the Day imitation and then later like a poppy Hit the Lights demo; Jorgensen's chanting of "I am human being/I'm not for sale, I'm not for sale/Nobody can purchase me" definitely detracts from the usual level of maturity in his lyrics. "Know What You Have" is a highlight of the EP, a slow song carrying the same weight as "Hold the Door" and sounding most like a return to the less frantic vibe of Dream to Make Believe. The lyrics are very "awwwww" and could make this song a favorite for those who aren't too caught up in the beauty of the first albums, but know how to appreciate them. "The Way Out Is Broken," while first heard as a Smile for Them demo circulating around the internet, sounds great with added production from Dan Scarzella (Smile for Them, Limbeck). The title track will appeal the most to people who miss What To Do When You Are Dead, especially if you imagine it taking place in the afterlife (a la Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows).
Aside from the disappointment of "We'll Own the World," my major problem with The Way Out Is Broken is the mediocre production on some of the songs. The first three tracks are produced by Rob Freeman (Hit the Lights, Hometown Anthem), who, though a great singer and guitarist for the late Hidden in Plain View, does a subpar job on what could have been two of my favorite tracks. Machine, on the other hand, who produced What To Do When You Are Dead, does a stellar job on "Know What You Have" and brilliantly makes DeCicco the focal point for the song.
When Armor for Sleep wrote this EP, they knew they faced a lot of pressure to make something great after the perceived failure of Smile for Them. Did The Way Out Is Broken rekindle my love for this band? Yes. But will it do the same for its less avid fans? Probably not. The Way Out Is Broken is a natural and predictable evolution in Armor for Sleep's sound, so anyone who did not like the direction they were going with Smile for Them will not enjoy this EP as much as those who love their songs unconditionally. As much as I love this EP and everything Armor for Sleep has created, I fear that my boys are in a pit of disappointment, and that the way out for them is indeed broken.
Great review man. It was long but very informative and engaging. I do agree this is kind of lackluster just like Smile For Them was. They aren't bad but kind of average. I think the band should have stepped their game up for their past two releases because they knew how much people loved WTTWYD. Unless they release an amazing follow up album they probably will fade into obscurity.
I'll admit that when I first heard Smile for them, I was like... WTF? But eventually it grew on me. I liked how some of the guitars had changed, but overall, it just wasn't as good as either of their first two albums. But, as many of you are, I am a huge fan. I would sing the praises of Armor for Sleep to anyone that would listen when I first heard Dream to Make Believe.
I've seen them twice now, and neither time was a dissapointment.
And honestly? I kinda like The Way Out is Broken. Not all of it. But the majority of it keep me coming back for repeated listens. I like the urgency of the title track, but I am a sucker for some fast bass kicks..
Don't get me wrong, I am hoping the next full album will be more like the first two albums, but how often do bands really revert after changing their sound?
WTDWYD was the first album I bought of theirs after stumbling on Car Underwater randomly. That album rocked and was to my tastes. After seeing them live in NJ supporting Saosin, I grew a liking for some of the tracks on Smile for Them,
I am intersted in checking this out, but the review didn't sell it to me. I might just look for some youtube clips and make my initial decision there.