New Jersey native Armor for Sleep made waves with its first two independent releases, “Dream to Make Believe” (2003) and “What to Do When You Are Dead” (2005), albums full of whiny emo anthems about how terrible life is in affluent suburbs. While these two releases aren’t completely awful, they definitely left room for growth from the fairly young group.
Armor for Sleep’s newest release, “Smile For Them,” its first on major label Warner Brothers/ Sire Records, was a huge chance for the group to take advantage of the low bar set by its first releases, and to break out of the Tri-state (New York/New Jersey/Connecticut) emo scene.
But in “Smile,” the band seems to have opted for stagnation over musical maturity.
The first track, “Smile for the Camera,” immediately bashes the listener over the head with lackluster and uninspiring lyrics. The opening lyrics of the song read, “What if you find out / Everyone that’s in your life / Is only being paid off / By a T.V. studio / And every conversation / Everyone’s had with you / Was scripted by the writers / Living in Los Angeles.” Seriously, that’s horrific.
The sound of lead singer Ben Jorgenson’s voice is also terribly annoying. While some singers are simply nasal-sounding by nature, such as Andrew McMahon of Something Corporate, it is painfully obvious that Jorgenson is going for a sound so nasal it makes ears bleed. The strangely scratchy quality of his dying-raccoon squeals makes listeners want to off themselves before the next track finishes.
The second cut from the album, “Williamsburg,” pushes the record from bad to worse. The tune is a jab at the aesthetic of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The lyrics, however, read like the ingredients list on a box of Cap’n Crunch. “Brooklyn’s a deathbed / For clones of the same kid / Stuck in the party / That was lame to begin with,” Jorgenson whimpers.
“Williamsburg” is not only painful to listen to because of the sub-par quality of the songwriting, but the subject matter is idiotic and farcical, not to mention ironic. At a recent show in New Hampshire, Armor for Sleep took the stage dressed in matching ties and sweater vests, straightened hair draping over their eyes, only to be pushed aside every 20 seconds. The band looks like an army of Pete Wentz clones, hell-bent on seeing absolutely no humor in the living caricatures that they are.
The fourth track on the album, “Hold the Door,” is its most listenable. The song starts out lazily, with an organ and guitar riff and Jorgenson plaintively wailing over the generic atmospheric sounds. When the rest of the band kicks in, Jorgenson screams, “I don’t want to be who I was back then,” yet another cliché completely lost on a band obsessed with being far too serious for their own good.
After the fifth track, the album seems to just repeat itself. Nearly every song on the record is in the same key, each guitar riff as bland and uninspired as the one before it. Jorgenson relies on the same octave for the entirety of his singing.
Armor for Sleep needs to learn a number of things, first and foremost that no one likes a whiner. This album is loaded with self-pity and doesn’t even play with the notion of taking action to better one’s situation. Quite on the contrary, the lyrics, as well as the music, suggest monotony and repetition.
In closing, it must be said that Armor for Sleep begs for a parallel with another New Jersey emo band, Senses Fail. Both started out singing about corpses of ex-girlfriends and how to best commit suicide. But Senses Fail grew out of that stage with their newest album, “Still Searching,” an album that is more metal than emo and reaches beyond the temptation to wallow in self-pity.
Armor for Sleep’s typical emo whininess can only keep it afloat for so long, and this latest release has fans hoping that the band grows out of it soon.