Getting some mail from Kanye West
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In January, I received a package in the mail. The return address was from Detroit, Michigan and the sender’s name was Kanye West. I knew exactly what this was before I even opened it, and it most certainly was not from Kanye West.
It was from The Armed and this bit of misdirection is part and parcel of a band that spent their last press cycle pulling the wool over every writer’s eyes. They put people in press photos who, as best as anyone could tell, weren’t in the band. There was some speculation they were paid actors, a rumor that proliferated because when they were profiled in Noisey they rented a $200,000 car as a bit. They had a guy in a ghillie suit sitting behind a table on stage at their live shows. They got called a cult, a term they seemed to bristle with. But the first thing I received about their new album ULTRAPOP was a cassette tape that played an informercial, and had an accompanying phone number. I called it and there was no answer. Five minutes later, I got a call back from the mythical Dan Greene. I didn’t answer.
Then I found myself in a Discord chat. Gerard Butler was there. Well, sort of. There was a website tied to all this, bookofbookofdaniel.church, which is as inscrutable as you’d expect it to be given everything else I just explained. And honestly, I just…didn’t really care.
This is not to say I was burned out on The Armed. In fact, it was the exact opposite. But all of this was catnip for music writers. It was building a mythology about a weird collective functioning as an avant-garde hardcore band, and it was basically spoon-feeding people the narrative that they could put up top in every write-up of the band for the entire press cycle. It was a way of controlling the way the band was presented, because there were so many threads to pull on—there’s also a weightlifting element people are very intrigued by this time—that no matter what kind of angle you need to get a story approved, The Armed’s got a dozen for you to choose from. And honestly, bless them for that. Because all of this is fun as hell in a way most band’s just aren’t anymore.
But the thing is, I was already in the bag. I wrote about their first album Untitled and the follow-up Only Love was my favorite record that year. I didn’t need to be sold. I was ready to throw my money at them and go along for the ride. So while I’ve been happy to see so many people jumping in because of all this crazy, fun stuff, all I cared about was the songs. And ULTRAPOP doesn’t disappoint on that front. It’s an abrasive, noisy pop record that uses all the trappings of hardcore, grind, and Amphetamine Reptile-style noise rock to build a world that feels totally different from what came before while still being a logical continuation of what they previously laid down. After all, Untitled had a very obvious nod to David Bowie right there on the cover, is it any surprise that each new record would see the band look different, sound different, and potentially be made up of totally different people?
When everyone wants to know the truth of The Armed, I find myself more compelled by the fact that it really doesn’t matter. So much of music is about connecting with the individual who makes it and treating them as a totem for your own self-image. It could be Kanye West or David Bowie or Phoebe Bridgers or whoever else. But with The Armed the purpose, to me at least, is that we’re all part of it. This group of miscreants that was putting on aggressively confrontational live shows just three years ago are now all conventionally fit and attractive, and they’re making what is, at its core, pop music. If they can do those things that seem incredibly unattainable to the average person then, I guess, so can you. At least, that’s what it says to me.
I don’t have a lot of interest in knowing The Armed because it feels like the purpose of this all is to know yourself. Have fun with music, build a narrative that lets you be whatever kind of person you want to be, because if you look the part and say it enough, eventually other people will just start saying it for you. If Only Love was a hardcore record about radical love and acceptance, ULTRAPOP seems to be about self-reinvention and progress. It’s essentially the living image of the Crass lyric, “Be exactly who you want to be, do what you want to do.” How appropriate that The Armed are embodying the spirit of that anarchist collective more than any crust punk band has in the past two decades.
ULTRAPOP is a record that’s going to ruffle feathers—hardcore purists are gonna hate it—and make people even more curious about what’s going on with this weird band from Detroit. But all that matters to me at this point is the songs. And those? They’re pretty perfect. That much I know for sure.