If there is one genre that has been weakened by this decade’s demand for simplicity in popular music, alternative-rock likely takes the cake. There are groups like Nickelback and Feeder that constantly attempt to replicate a single idea, purely based on that idea’s prior success on the commercial market. As a result, many people have to come generalize alternative-rock as being naturally repetitive and devoid of any emotional variation. As the past shows, that could not be further from the truth. The definition of “alternative-rock” has undoubtedly changed since the ’80s, but most of us can remember when groups like R.E.M. and The Replacements ruled the alt-rock realm. Bands like those had a distinctive style that was incomparable to their peers; they also were able to make their material eclectic, unique, and engaging in ways that only an oblivious imitator could replicate. Guitars often led the pack of instrumentation, but it was never a given and song structures were generally just as unpredictable. Nowadays, you have alt-rock groups that literally use the same structure, instrumentation, and so-called “hook” for each and every one of their songs. They find success based on how they disguise this one-dimensional idea, not on whether they are able to impact the genre in an inventive and captivating way.
The lack of quality alternative-rock groups this decade has admittedly put the genre in an odd situation. The groups with plenty of exposure are often the ones that are least worthwhile, while a few of the others that strive for even a glance of success usually have the right influences in mind to emit an interesting enigma. I get a lot of the former in the mail from bands that are desperately trying to imitate the radio’s interpretation of quality alternative-rock. The latter, though, still tends to show up from time to time, in this case being the five guys in Armen Firman. Their name derives from the name of a man that reportedly attempted to fly in the year 852, with his conquest becoming a failure after his garment-fueled device fell to the ground. He sustained minor injuries though, mainly because he invented the parachute in the process of his own failure. When applied to this Australian five-piece, the name seems like a rather apt choice. Their style recalls a distant style of alternative-rock that has become nearly extinct since its disappearance in the late ‘90s, using a somewhat outdated approach to achieve success that is unparalleled by most new alt-rock groups of a similar vein. For a genre like this, going back in time is usually beneficial.
Although their debut EP consists of only five songs, Your Name in My Skin shows listeners all they need to know in providing surefire examples of Armen Firman’s throwback style of alt-rock. The production is often thick with a bustling rhythm section, aided by guitars that one would expect and orchestral implementations that one would not. A mixture of conventionalism and innovation is what Armen Firman do best on Your Name in My Skin. Conventionally accessible song structures and melodies allow their material to flourish in front of first-time audiences, but the differences between Armen Firman and other contemporaries is their variation. In regard to emotional depth, choice of instrumentation, and cumulative ardency, each track differs on Your Name in My Skin with deep resonance. They seem stuck in an age where groups like The Smashing Pumpkins, Yo La Tengo, and The Wrens stood tall with their diverse presentation of alt-rock, and sometimes being stuck in time can be the greatest thing in the world for a band of Armen Firman’s nature. The Melbourne natives seem well accustomed to alt-rock stemming from the US or UK, allowing them to tread the fine line between replicating influences and creating original gems.
Armen Firman’s songs, as a whole, tend to present an exterior that seems familiar, perhaps too familiar for some. But when listeners dig deeper and begin to treat the five-piece like, say, an alt-rock groups from the ‘80s or ‘90s, enjoyment should be imminent. Take “Porch Dweller” for instance, their first single. The song initially sounds like a journey into the world of dream-folk, taking on a twangy guitar progression, the steady use of a tambourine, and the subtle scent of an organ. When the other guitar track appears and begins to show the group’s intricate songwriting ability, it appears more reminiscent of exotic post-rock in the vein of Radiohead’s “Paranoid Android.” The chorus then strips itself down, led by the quick strums of a guitar and the concurrent usage of a delicate piano. A heavily reverbed guitar solo then paves the way for the song’s excellent conclusion. All these moments prove indicative of the band’s impressive grasp of variation, a skill that many contemporary artists fail to recognize despite their genre or level of commercial success. “In the Water” is a great display of the group’s energy, mainly because it allows vocalist Tom Whitty to cohesively show off his chops. The way his voice intensifies during the effervescent chorus reminds me of Chris Cornell, whose voice continues to impress me despite his music being mediocre at best. The ballad-like fluidity of “Only I Know You” shows the group’s impressive diversity even more, making a legitimate case for Your Name in My Skin being one of the better alt-rock EPs of the past several months.