One of the favorite topics of music journalists/bloggers is the tired “rock is dead” or “radio rock is dead” thinkpiece that bemoans a lack of fresh and exciting rock music. New alternative rock in particular comes under fire for, by their claim, all but disappearing over the past few years; the alt rock landscape is populated by arean-sellers like Foo Fighters and The Black Keys while fresher bands start heading for a more indie rock sound. These articles have become so overdone that the automatic response is that “You’re just not looking in the right place”.
Brooklyn based Arc & Stones spend their debut EP looking for that right place. Touting themselves as “old soul with a new sound”, Arc & Stones is five good doses of 00s alternative rock that keeps the young band’s central sound while varying the delivery enough that little feels repeated. The EP makes the split between 1990s alt and grunge and 00s alt apparent; there’s a bigness here that is distinctly post-Alternative Nation. Even for the 90s bands that went for a big, full sound (The Smashing Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails), it was driven by emotion and catharsis that sound miles away from a 2000s single like “Learn to Fly”.
A&S‘s lead single and song “Silence” would sound comfortable on whatever local radio station still plays “Learn to Fly”. In under a minute, the song goes from a quiet reverb guitar and vocal opening to taut, stomping drums and distorted guitar before exploding into a huge chorus. The most immediate “old soul” on the chorus is the Foo Fighters, with whom Arc & Stones share a knack for cheating hooks and melodies into powerhouse choruses, although “Silence” throws in some “new sound” with a scrapping and squalling guitar that stays present through the whole chorus. The way the band is able to dissemble and rebuild the song at the bridge is slick to boot, and hints at an adventurous edge.
That adventurousness is explored more in “Say Goodbye”. A pleasant piano/acoustic guitar duo open the song while lyrics about a troubled relationship are laid bare. This keeps up until about a fourth of the way in, at which point the rest of the band kicks in, including an Incubus-influenced guitar lead. The full band stays for the next verse, but the most thrilling part of the song is tempo-changing, slash and burn rock out bridge. The thick, distorted, low-end guitar sounds like a rougher Black Keys riff.
And while almost every up and coming rock band with riffs cites The Black Keys as a reference, Arc & Stones is one of the few bands where the claim has validity. Fourth track “She’s Mine” is the EP’s big, dumb rock song, but the band plays the ever living hell out of it, and the song’s closer to a blue rock freak-out than a bar band jam. The vocals do some favors for the song and the Black Keys comparison; all throughout Arc & Stones, they’re a mix of Dan Auerbach rasp and the full voice of Caleb Followill from Kings of Leon, but on “She’s Mine”, they’re especially gritty. The band’s less successful on “Let Me Down”, the designated ballad of the EP. It’s a worthy attempt at an acoustic ballad, but can’t quite support itself at four and a half minutes long; it’s the longest song on Arc & Stones, and it certainly feels like it.
After detouring with “Let Me Down” and “She’s Mine”, Arc & Stones come back to their signature sound for closer “Rise”. The most striking thing about “Rise” is how triumphant it is; the solo is searing, the drums never let up, and the entire song has a naturally dynamic feel to it; it doesn’t feel like it’s trying to be a jam or a single. And, the EP’s five songs, it’s the hardest one with which to play Spot The Influence. It’s an exciting way to close a promising EP.
Arc & Stones is a solid and energetic EP that brings a sound you didn’t know you missed. The band’s influences are, at this point, still a little transparent, but there’s no blatant lifts, and they put a new spin on any of the old souls that they use. The only time it stumbles is in the middle, but the EP runs so brief that it’s hard to notice. Arc & Stones are a young band, but they aren’t afraid to be big, or be loud, and you shouldn’t be afraid of giving them a try.
Keep up with the band on their Facebook page, and given “Silence” a listen below.