Jackie Richardson ’21 | Assistant Arts Editor
Floating upwards in Instagram feeds and maybe even in the real, tangible world somewhere, there exists something called the mirror cake. It’s named after the smooth shine of its glaze which, to be considered successful, must be spotless — it must be perfect without any trace of effort. This effortless beauty catches the eye at first, but after watching anything that could be considered an imperfection get sanded down to an uncanny valley smoothness, the mind craves some deviating irregularity.
Of course, this kind of hyper-produced perfection doesn’t just happen in cakes or pictures. It’s in music too. But even though I knew this, I didn’t fully realize it until I listened to the opening moments of “In this Time,” the latest album by the 60s-inspired punk band The Ar-Kaics. Not that they sound hyper-produced — quite the opposite, really. The first few seconds of “Don’t Go With Him,” which opens with a guitar as obsessive and insistent-sounding as the song’s title, beat through me with the physics you’d only expect from live music. The Ar-Kaics leave all of the sounds on their album raw. The guitar crashes down on you in brilliant, metallic waves; the lead singer never dilutes his angst and anger, and this comes out in his voice: growling, rasping, straining.
But don’t mistake this raw sound for a lack of care or purpose. Each song creates its mood, communicates its feeling, and moves on without being self-indulgent or masturbatory; like all good art, each focuses on the listener’s experience rather than the band’s pleasure. The album contains a few blips. Although the lead singer’s longing voice falls feather-delicate and soft in the love song “It’s Her Eyes,” it still doesn’t quite manage to convince me in the context of the rest of the album’s burning, angry, anxious emotion. In the pre-chorus, the song even lapses back into the nervous sound so often used in other parts of the album. Moreover, when I listened to the full album, I often craved a more consistent break from this emotional fever. But the way The Ar-Kaics so insistently craft this cramped, paranoid soundscape — though not necessarily pleasant all the time — immersed me in the deep, dusty shades of their sound. And this overcomes any flaws in their album.
Well, except for one — one that keeps me from wholeheartedly recommending this album. The angry obsessiveness of this album that I’ve written about — it’s sometimes directed towards women. “Don’t go with him. No, you won’t go with him,” commands “Don’t Go With Him.” “She’s Obsessed” laments and hurls anger and disdain at a woman who is, well, “obsessed with herself.” It’s not that I think either of these things present some kind of irreproachable moral wrong, but I don’t enjoy listening to men tell women where they shouldn’t go or hearing them disparage other women. As an English major, I spend a lot of time reading men who write about women they actively disdain, and I don’t want to do that in whatever time I have left to myself.
That was a small, personal note, however. I greatly enjoyed most of this album, and I’m going to come back to many of these songs even after I finish writing this review (which is rare, to be honest, when it comes to many of the things I review). Their music is nourishing and thought-provoking in the way good music should be. Check out the album when it comes out on Oct. 26.