Live Review: Arms and Sleepers – Cargo – 5/11/14

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Filled from bare brick wall to bare brick wall with the most diverse crowd I’ve possibly ever been huddled amongst, the urban cave that is Cargo was quite possibly the perfect venue for this trip hop collective.

Formed in 2006, Arms and Sleepers are Max Lewis and Mirza Ramic and with their 16th release, ‘Swim Team’, out now, the Boston duo must be doing something right.

On paper, Arms and Sleepers performance style could easily be written off.  It soon became obvious though, that this was not just a bloke in a hoodie making out with his mixer.  As Mirza opened with bass so ground-shaking it had a half empty can of lager gyrating across the bar in front of my very eyes and kaleidoscopic projections that left those very same eyes with entire galaxies in them, everybody’s ears were on him.

With no clear breaks in the set, it was almost impossible to distinguish between tracks.  But instead of being monotonous and dragging, this endless continuum created a fluidity only emulated further by the liquid sound itself.  So immersive was the journey we were being invited on that I forgot entirely what I was meant to be writing about until track four.  And that track was ‘Mingus Mapps’.

Hallucinogenic hip hop beats and a soulful vocal sample made for a more trippy, less wordy Frank Ocean.  The crowd were only moving closer but being submerged in the aquatic ripples of strings and waves of bass convinced me I had all the space in the world.  If we could breathe underwater, Arms and Sleepers are what it would feel like.

Unshield’ began simply with spitty hi-hats , clicks and ker-chings plucked straight from an eighties arcade.  As the layers built and everything got more complicated, these childhood sounds interjected.  Arms and Sleepers refused to let the room forget the simplicity that the track opened with, making the climax all the more powerful.

Strings spiked like icicles over bluesy bass and circular rhythms layered up into a dark climax, that coincided with the first real break in the set.

Nobody More than You’ lightened the mood with a poppier vocal, with a hint of Tove Lo if she went all R n B.  Heavy bass dropped alternately, like aural Tetris blocks and then it all got a bit hyperactive.

The folky, eastern European intro of ‘From the City Lights’ almost shocked me out of my mesmerised trance.  Massive, epic drums, trickling key progressions and zigzagging harmonica could have gone a bit Gogol Bordello, but it actually provided a dark crescendo to the evolution of the rest of the set.

As it became apparent that Mirza was ending with album title track, ‘Swim Team’, the lone groupie who had been quite frankly losing his shit –there is no other way to describe him- for the entire set was joined by some fellow slow-mo skankers.  A big hip-hop beat that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Jay-z track was disguised with more of the duos signature liquid layering and the journey from simplicity to complexity left me happily content with life.  That, and Josh Gahleb’s beautifully nostalgic video flashing onto the stage backdrop.  Space age, instrumental (mostly) trip-hop may not be your thing, but Arms and Sleepers have created a musical and cinematic experience that I defy you not to be mesmerised by.

Swim Team‘ is out now.

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