Some artists – especially established ones – are subject to incredulous amounts of hype and scrutiny with every release. These bands and musicians tend to be locked or preserved in time, being held in constant comparison to their first or their greatest release, no matter how many years or lineup changes ago that might have been. Everyone knows one of these bands; forever viewed through the rose lenses of nostalgia, no matter how vibrantly they try to break from the mold and make something new or progressive. For me, Arsonists Get all the Girls is one of these bands. Their debut full-length, Hits from the Bow, introduced me to frantic, devastating music – and while each subsequent release was refreshing, new and masterful, I could never hold them to the same standard which I had raised Hits from the Bow – that is, until Listen to the Color. Arsonists Get all the Girls’ latest full-length journey is anything but a simple return to form – rather it’s frenetic yet intricate songwriting and unpredictable tangents are positive proof that the band is like a bottle of good scotch: it only gets better with time.
In a word, Listen to the Color is…well, colorful. Jokes aside, allow me to elaborate: Arsonists Get all the Girls has crafted an album which is nothing short of sheer, unpredictably mayhem on every level imaginable. It begins instrumentally –“When I was Your Age, Pluto was a Planet” feels as if it grabs the listener’s ears and pulls them in opposite directions. Chaotic, blasting drums peck and prod away at the listener’s sanity, while catchy, invasive synth lines ingrain themselves in the listener’s brain. This is Arsonists Get all the Girls’ strategy: a guerilla-style war on the listener’s peace of mind, and no track is as effective as “Balloon Battle.” “Balloon Battle” is an instrumental track which first fires up the N-64, shortly before firing up its engines and racing full speed at the listener like a freight train with no intent of stopping. It combines surreal, dissonant instrumentation with cohesive, catchy grooves to create an atmosphere that sounds something like if the Super Mario Brothers decided to start a jam band with Anamanaguchi. Throughout each track, a different facet of the band’s diverse instrumentation finds a way to stand out – whether it’s “Play the Sheep” and its bouncy, fun synth or “Bottle City” and the punchy, snappy bass that sucker punches the listener square in the jaw.
True enough, Listen to the Color does feature its fair share of instrumental segments – but for the most part, the chaotic, intense instrumentation serves as a playground with which the vocals interact. The vocals throughout Listen to the Color are as excellently executed as they are diverse – and they are diverse. Ranging from screeching, ear-splitting highs to gut-wrenching bellowed growls and every vocal style in between – including Rob Smith (of HeavyHeavyLowLow and Downstaiirs fame) and his trademark scream/shout/rant/gurgle vocal style and ex-vocalist and keyboardist Cameron Reed, alongside several other jaw-dropping guest appearances. It would be folly, however, to mistake the relatively high number of guest vocal spots for vocal inadequacy on Arsonists Get all the Girls’ front; “Play the Sheep” and “Bottle City” are evidence of the exact opposite. Nails-on-chalkboard style screams wage a constant battle with depths-of-Hell low bellows while the instruments crash and rampage betwixt them. It boils down to this: while, on paper, Listen to the Color sounds dense, messy and rambunctious, in practice, it a stunningly cohesive (if not boisterous) display of grindcore at its finest.
The rainbow that is Listen to the Color is, like a rainbow itself, comprised of many hues that, in turn, can combine and contrast to create an even greater effect upon the listener. “When I was Your Age, Pluto was a Planet” bum-rushes the listener with half a minute of grindcore insanity, while the following track, “Bottle City” is a much more fluid, deep track which explores the band’s grindcore stylings in more detail. However, tracks like the incredible “Balloon Battle” send the listener for a loop, using a cavalcade of electronic effects alongside a groovy, toe-tapping riff to hook the listener’s brain. Nothing, however, can prepare the listener for shock-and-awe moments like “Ride the Wave,” which makes the listener feel like they stepped into Pulp Fiction’s opening credits. Surely, you’re thinking to yourself, with all these different elements, this album can’t flow worth a damn. Here’s the thing – it does. It provides a completely immersive experience which jostles, jolts and jars the listener into submission with a barrage of heavy, bone-splintering tracks only to perk them back up with the plucky, bold gimmicks Arsonists Get all the Girls are known for. Listen to the Color is like a vivid, intense dream that after waking feels like it could have been real – were it not so ludicrous.
Absurd, obscene album art? Check. Equally absurd band name and song titles? Check and check. Surf rock and Mario influences? Keep on checkin’. However, writing off Arsonists Get all the Girls’ Listen to the Color would be nothing short of folly. Listen to the Color is a marvelous journey through every hue of the rainbow – and then some, as blistering instrumentation and lacerating vocal work combine with smooth, interesting touches to create one of the freshest experiences since Febreeze.
For Fans Of: The Number Twelve Looks Like You, Preschool Tea Party Massacre, Magrudergrind