What a Time to Be Barely Alive is a record of bangers, stompers, barn burners, finger-pointers, and everything else in my punk reviewer-shorthand dictionary. It’s fierce and immediate and full of piss and vinegar; there’s personal rage to highlight personal politics as well as chugging chords and shoutalong choruses. Arms Aloft have taken the framework of midwest punk (a genre as oft-copied and oft-botched as 90’s skate punk) and used it to sell a series of twenty-something musings and frustrations– the kinds of things you talk about late at night as you start seeing the decks and how they’re stacked against you.
The lyrics across What a Time to Be Barely Alive are poignant and alive with angst. They’re clever too, and not afraid to take different approaches to standard punk topics, delve into metaphor, and most importantly wallow in their own perspective. And that’s one of the things that make Arms Aloft a cut above the average gruff punk band– they’re sense of songwriting. Throughout the length of the album you can hear them forging their own identity.
Which is a good thing, because without the clever lyricism, I could see this album bypassing some people. It has hooks, sure. Once you start listening, they’re there and they can be huge. But on first listen, the only thing that kept me going was the crunch of the guitars and the couplets I could make out. It’s so gravelly, so aggressive at parts that I was wondering if I was listening to a hookless melodic punk album. Of course, as I listened more, the sheer catchiness of the album opened up, but it is without a doubt one of those mythic growers.
And speaking of that guitar crunch: this album has some of best punk production I’ve ever heard. This is how I want my punk rock to sound– raw, aggressive, and crisp. You can feel every strum, every drumbeat, and every bassline. You can feel Arms Aloft shaking the walls of a club no one’s ever heard of. On opener “We Have Nothing to Lose But Our Chains…” the three chord riff that punctuates the chorus feels like thunder and lightening. When you can feel the fire like that, a hook is nothing.
I guess if I were to say anything about Arms Aloft, or if I were to succinctly try and spin this review into a thesis statement, I’d say: it grabs you. From the opening song it takes hold and demands you get to know it better. Lyrics come flying, they make you think and feel, and pretty soon the melody they’re glued to becomes embedded in the muscle memory of your throat. What a Time to Be Barely Alive is powerful stuff.