The indie rock group Get Him Eat Him have really come into their own on their second full-length album, Arms Down. In a sense, the band’s accomplished one of the most difficult tasks in a young band’s career—following up a promising debut with a solid step forward. You can imagine a group such as this stagnating under the pressure of the tonnes of music the potentially music-nerdy members (hey, we’re right there with them) are processing each day. But these guys have done something much smarter, and it’s the old saying: if you can’t beat them… yes, Get Him Eat Him have brought in some friends. Beirut’s Zach Condon, Jon Natchez, and Kristin Ferebee contribute horns and violin parts; the Wrens’ Charles Bissell is on 12-string, and Broken Social Scene collaborator Chris Brown plays Hammond organ. The result is predictably full-sounding—the band’s never been straightforward, exactly, but Arms Down is positively dense. And this is really appropriate for Get Him Eat Him, a band defined by layers and layers of guitar/organ/keyboard lines playing off each other and throwing up unexpected melody. But more than this, the new album reminds us of the solace of late ‘90s indie (really indie) music and its still-valid promise, i.e. emotion need not overpower complexity when that complexity equals “angularity”/whiny vocals/unpredictable chord and segmental progressions.
I heard the band’s cover of Magnetic Fields’ “The Luckiest Guy on the Lower East Side” for the first time a few months ago, though it was released on one of the band’s first EPs, and it has struck me since just how far the band has come. There’s nothing left of that feeling of indebtedness, the copying of Merritt’s lugubrious voice, on Arms Down—this really is an announcement of arrival. In fact, the band could teach that little group the Strokes a thing or two; you get the feeling, listening to this record, that this is the level of sophistication that much bigger band should have reached. In fact, we hardly hear LeMay’s lower register at all on the album. The closest is “What We Do”, reflective of “Luckiest Guy” in content (“I didn’t want to be ugly”) as well as range; but this is a smarter (if less catchy) song—the melody refuses to fall into a recognizable pattern.
On the band’s best cuts, sheer exuberance may make you miss the fact that there’s a bunch going on. The very first song is a total highlight: “2x2” foregoes expansion for idea-packing, and the tightness conceals chugging, polyphonic guitars and intermittent vocorder-static over LeMay’s voice. “I won’t go quiet / I won’t go home”, he exclaims with a defiance not heard since Tim Freedman on “Duffy’s Song”, perhaps the Whitlams’ last compelling song. It’s sensible that these songs contain themselves—in under three minutes, “2x2” and “Exposure”, for instance, make their point quickly and leave us wanting more.
Elsewhere, the band skirts with pop-punk enough to hint at the possibility of radio airplay, only to veer away into complexity. “The Coronation Show” may be the closest GHEH comes, with its “whoah-oh-oh-oh” chorus, but it’s slower than you might expect, giving full exposure to Condon’s trumpet as sweet melodic hangover. “Just So” coagulates into power pop for the chorus, but its strangely arresting polyphony never lets the listener fully pop out. And “Get Down” is just another example, popping out of the speakers seemingly fully formed. There is something theatrical about these songs, but they’re not overt in the way of Cold War Kids; rather, the band takes advantage of those familiar chord progressions, but without the over-the-top dramatics, reminding us one minute of the Wrens and another of the New Pornographers—yet never overtly, and always in the service of the song itself.
“Every song sounds like something to prove / But I’m used to taking it out on my ribcage”, LeMay declares on “Exposure”. While it’s true that the songs on Arms Down aren’t quite as overtly ambitious as recent indie fare from the likes of the Arcade Fire or the Besnard Lakes, Get Him Eat Him have produced a buzzing, intermittently thrilling album full of verve and understated complexity. It’s worth more than a passing listen—and while not necessarily the most fashionable music out there, it’s polished fine enough to be a pleasure to listen to over and again.