Silk Screens: ARMS – “Summer Skills”
ARMS, once the solo project of Harlem Shakes (RIP) member Todd Goldstein, has transformed into a four piece and continues to put out beautiful rockish/ popish tunes. In 2011 they released Summer Skills, a follow up to 2009′s brilliant Kids Aflame. The title track on the album was a slow rolling wave of a song that seemed set with the sun. Recently the band regrouped and re-imagined “Summer Skills” into a completely different vibe and feeling, packed with energy, rising with the moon. Take a listen:
With this edition of Silk Screens Todd has taken the time to give us some history of this transformation:
The last song on Summer Skills is the album’s title track: a spare, acoustic ballad featuring brushed drums, upright bass, vibraphone, and a touch of farfisa organ. Above, you’ll find the song’s album-based version, as well as a new version of the song – the “Bump in the Night” version, a total reworking of the tune we built from the ground up. Where the album version is hushed, resigned, mournful, the new version is celebratory, bombastic, and a little bit danceable. What you may not know is that the “new” version is in fact the old version…and the path that led us to the album’s acoustic rendition required a crucial dose of patience and learning.
When I’m deep in songwriting mode, I begin by making a mess, amassing a huge pile of verses, choruses, bridges, riffs, and miscellaneous musical doodads. The verse and chorus that eventually coalesced into the title track of ‘Summer Skills’ were, in fact, the first two doodads I wrote when I began writing the album in earnest; it wasn’t until every single other song on the album was complete that I was able to finish “Summer Skills”, the song. The two pieces weren’t even related at first (they were associated with two different, frustratingly dead-end-y, songs for most of the year) and we tried them in hundreds of different combinations, combining them with other doodads and throwing on different stylistic hats – dance-rock, girl-group, pop-punk, and a host of other hyphenates – in search of the combo that would pass everyone’s respective gut-checks.
At the very end of the process, once we were on the eve of actually recording the album, I put the two sections together in a fit of desperation (“They’re the first pieces I wrote for the album. They have to be on there somewhere…”) and just said fuggit, let’s make it a folk song. We took a cue from Neil Young, kept it simple, and everyone agreed that the two disparate doodads that had been dogging us throughout the whole process had finally found a home. Here’s a gorgeous version of “Old Man,” to give you an idea of what we were shooting at:
To me, songs aren’t monolithic things – they have bones, they have skin, they wear clothes, and changing any one of these elements can drastically effect the song’s final effect. Though I love the final version of “Summer Skills”, some of its old costumes still haunted me for months afterwards. At the time, they seemed somehow wrong – too much, too little, off-balance in some way – but now that a definitive version had been cut, I felt we were now free to experiment and put something different out there. One older version, in particular, was my favorite – a dancier take that reminded me of my favorite tracks on Talking Heads’ ‘Remain In Light’, or maybe ‘Calling Out of Context’-era Arthur Russell.
While ‘Summer Skills,’ the album, was made in a professional recording studio in Brooklyn, we opted to record “Summer Skills (Bump in the Night Version)” ourselves, using our own equipment and getting back, in way, to the intimacy of our older stuff.
Much like how the song’s lyrics sum up the album’s themes and provide a sense of closure over the preceding emotional rollercoaster, the new version of ‘Summer Skills’ feels like the culmination of the creative process that birthed the album, containing within it all the trial and error, success and failure, blood and sweat we put into this thing between 2009 and 2011. We hope you like it.
Thanks Todd! Be sure to buy/stream/enjoy a ton of ARMS‘ music on their Bandcamp.