No honest critic will shuffle through talking about this release from Todd Goldstein without mentioning his more infamous alma mater, the now defunct Harlem Shakes. The Shakes put out one of the most promising records of the year, only to break hearts everywhere with their hiatus. Living in the shadow of an ambitious and promising group of musicians can be a blessing and a curse; the stage is set for certain expectations, connotations, and judgments. For the most part Goldstein answers the supposed nose-turns with poise; his album has highs and lows, missteps and successes, the way an artist's solo record often emerges. The difference is the expectation of something more based on Technicolor Health
, and though it is not fair to expect this of Goldstein, who has been "ARMS" since 2004, it is too late to separate him from the machine that put Arms on the map in the first place. So it goes.
To his credit, ARMS puts his right foot forward. A simple vocal exercise which turns into a nice touch, leads into a button click and the first real song, "Whirring." Even though I went into this thing wanting to love it, I can honestly say "Whirring" is a great tune, dizzying and satisfying in it's circular melody and tying-our-shoes aesthetics. As an album opener it satisfied the part of me craving Harlem Shakes (although it is not at all similar), while establishing that Goldstein will have his own voice on this record. Arms also smartly recognizes the success of this number, including an acoustic version as a bonus track (equally enjoyable).
However, from this point, Kids Aflame
is a bit of a roller coaster of emotions and attention span. I submit "Construction," "Fall," and "Anna M" are the low points of Goldstein's romp, schmaltzy without punch, and too woozy even for introspection or zoning out (in the good way). Getting passed those critiques, there are a bunch of potential winners here. "Kids Aflame" wound up being another one of my favorites. I think ARMS does best when stretching the definition of his brand of lo-fi, with more of a catchy-melody mentality and less of a glazed-over look. Like "Shitty Little Disco" is totally nothing like "lo-fi," especially considering the blatant Brandon Flowers channeling going on when the drum beat picks up, but it winds up being more compelling than, say "Fall," which doesn't even pick a wheel to reinvent, and winds up going nowhere with a dead end riff.
It might also be worth noting some of this material has been floating around for quite some time. "Kids Aflame" and "Shitty Little Disco" have been released before, and have had plenty of time to grow and be tweaked. Kids Aflame
is a combination of material old and new, and that could be another reason it feels inconsistent at times; sometimes lo-fi prog-fuzz, and sometimes poppy.
Like I said, ARMS didn't need to hit a home run here. The misconception from fans will be that Kids Aflame
should somehow be an addendum to Health
, or at least as good as the first solo records of other successful band members (like Bradford Cox or Julian Casablancas, for instance). While those guys are building bridges off of an already respectable body of work, Goldstein is now picking up the pieces of something he started independently of Harlem Shakes. And considering the odds, he did a pretty respectable job. -joe puglisi