PAUL COMRIE-THOMSON'S BLOG: The Lawrence Arms - Apathy and ExhaustionThursday , 07 Mar 2013
The Lawrence Arms
Apathy and Exhaustion
(Fat Wreck Chords)
The Lawrence Arms had pretty much all but fallen off the radar. It's true that they dallied with the 7” format back in 2009 with Buttsweat and Tears, but that was merely a move that created momentary joy and anticipation, only to be followed by disappointment at the lack of anything to follow. The band's most recent full-length - Oh! Calcutta! - was actually released almost seven years ago now. But with The Larry Arms in the Southern Hemisphere for Australia's Soundwave Festival and a few shows in between, what better time to reflect on one of the best albums Fat Wreck Chords released in the early-2000s - The Lawrence Arms' Apathy and Exhaustion.
Apathy and Exhaustion was the first of the band's albums for Fat Wreck Chords, having released two fairly decent, but not particularly noteworthy albums for Asian Man Records. In contrast to those two earlier records - A Guided Tour of Chicago and Ghost Stories - Apathy and Exhaustion was a masterstroke, and the album remains at the forefront of The Larry Arms' discography.
To the extent Apathy and Exhaustion contains a “single”, the album opens with it. 'Porno and Snuff Films' is an upbeat, biting punk rock attack led by the distinctive gruff vocals of Brendan Kelly. And that track certainly captures one side of the Larry Arms. But as soon as 'The First Eviction Notice' kicks in, listeners are suddenly challenged with a very different sound from Chris McCaughan - one more evocative of John K Samson's songs from the early Propagandhi releases.
The approach defined by these two significantly different singing styles quickly becomes the most striking feature of this record. For some bands, the two-singer thing doesn't work so effectively, and to be sure it didn't really come off with the same effect when The Larry Arms first went for it on 2000's Ghost Stories. But on Apathy and Exhaustion it works marvelously well. Despite the tempo changes that generally accompany the change in singer, the Larry Arms' instrumental approach is consistent enough that the change in singers works to highlight the elements of differentiation across the 11 tracks that make up the album, so that across the sonic as a whole - instrumentation and singing - the band actually finds a synthesis that ensures enough variety within a cohesive approach. And indeed, the approach on those first two tracks is pretty indicative of what the rest of the album holds: Kelly's highlights spat out on 'I'll Take What's In the Box Monty' and 'Navigating The Windward Passage'; and McCaughan's on 'Your Gravest Words' and 'Brick Walls Views'.
It's unsurprising that Apathy and Exhaustion is the band's breakthrough record - the first on which The Larry Arms achieved this effective integration of exuberance and reflection, demonstrating punk rock and pop-punk genius. And it's an album that informed the band's subsequent career, with the later records reaching similar heights following a similar approach. But for me, Apathy and Exhaustion undoubtedly remains the best.
Those who get to see the band on their Australasian adventure will no doubt be stoked to revel in the band's history, and if they're anything like me, will be hoping that there'll be a decent chunk played from Apathy and Exhaustion. But while it's satisfying to look back to the highlight of the band's career, we live in hope that the latest bout of touring encourages the band back into the studio. After all, a new studio record is well overdue.
By Paul Comrie-Thomson
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