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Arms & Sleepers: Academic Dreamers

Updated: Mar 30, 2019

Forty Kleparż, Krakow, 10/5/10.

There is a new venue in Krakow, and it’s slowly but surely starting to put on some acts which are gaining it a reputation as an alternative indie night out to the likes of Studio Klub and Rotunda. Forty Kleparz, a cavern with about ten rooms, sprawling and labyrinthine, housed in a nineteenth century fortress opposite Nowy Kleparz. Over the last few months, Hanne Hukkelberg and Tiny Vipers have played here, along with various Polish singer/songwriters and cutting-edge DJ’s, and it would seem that tonight’s act, ambient/post-rock artists Arms and Sleepers, fit into the mould of interesting, slightly off-the-radar artists that make it in an intriguing place to check out.

Post-rock’ has been bandied about by music journalists for as long as Mogwai and Sigur Ros have been going, and slowly but surely this ambient, electronic style of music with minimal vocal is gaining currency in Poland. Just this week in Krakow we have God is an Astronaut, Caspian and tonight’s act Arms & Sleepers, who hail from Massachussets, US. Essentially a two-piece, the band has fleshed out on tour to a four-piece, hiring a vocalist and drummer to replicate their complex sound to a live audience. The band are inspired by film, particularly the work of Besson, Almodovar, and French new-wave; this is reflected in the very audio-visual feel to the gig, with TV screens around the venue flashing up images to go with the eerie, at times ethereal music. The set starts off slow, and drifts peacefully through the desolate and atmospheric ‘Girl Named Clive’ and ‘Warm’ from their ‘Bliss Was It In That Dawn To Be Alive’ album. The latter song's title unironically creates that feeling as the melodies pulse and echo in loops. This echoing soundscape begs to have visual media to go along with it, and the images of lonely highways and deserts from the American west bring to mind ‘Badlands’ or ‘Paris Texas’; the music of a country not waving but drowning. Gentle percussion melts into a chiming melody, and the band embed horns and vocals into ‘A Mission To Prague’. ‘Black Paris 86’, a title redolent of where the band’s heart may lie in time and place, hauntingly chimes, in a Portishead ‘Sour Times’ kind of a way; the keyboards and insistent drum-beat transporting you to a warm and yet unfamiliar place.

The layered, textual feel of the music, hard to transfer to a live stage, is played with skill and charm, and the addition of a falsetto vocal gives a Sigur Ros tinge, or perhaps a touch of the Album Leaf. It’s a dream-like performance, enhanced by the striking images; rhythmic electronic pulses are layered one atop another, and songs blend seamlessly together – a patchwork of ideas which together form a meaningful whole. The band’s sleepy melodies offer tranquilty. ‘The Architekt’ (sic) is almost other-worldly, the lyrics promising to “take us out of the atmosphere in a spaceship”, to a harpsichord harmony. The band, seem to have put these compositions together with such care and attention to detail that not one bum note is struck throughout the night – save for a faulty DVD player seizing up, which the band ruefully refer to at the start of their encore – obviously a bunch of supreme perfectionists. They finish the show with the lush, grainy epic ‘Untitled’ – a riot of drums and pulsing electronica, as the band is bathed in blue, a perfect colour for this most melancholy of bands. For a band named to signify “all those who are fighting and killing (arms) and all those who are ignoring it (sleepers)", the feeling they leave you with is one which is surprisingly uplifting and optimistic. The audience feels moved to give them a great reception before they drift off in to the cavern, and the band clearly reciprocate the warmth. If you haven't already, time to wake up to this band I think.

Arms and Sleepers, Forty Kleparz, Krakow, Poland, 2010
The feeling they leave you with is surprisngly uplifting

Here are some links to some of the songs mentioned in the review.

The Architekt

A Girl Named Clive


A Mission to Prague

Black Paris 86


The Motorist


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