*Army of Me*
Citizen
Doghouse Ameirca
*6.7/10*

By


Washington DC-based Army of Me have been around for quite a while and, after a litany of EPs, they’ve finally managed to get a full-length album together. I saw them perform in their hometown, where they played a thoroughly charming opening set for Mae, and kicked the butts of their then far more popular co-openers The Spill Canvas. Their debut is, like many debuts, a retread of several of their previous releases (thus we know out of the gate that it isn’t going to be a cohesive concept album or, in all likelihood, make any serious, ten-track point). But considering Army of Me’s strengths, 1) that’s not a bad thing, and 2) it’s not necessarily what they would be looking to do, anyway.

Songwriting frontman Vince Scheuerman doesn’t come off as an indie _artiste_, but there is something peculiarly magnetic about his songs (that mirrors, I might add, his earnest, unassuming stage persona). The opening of opener “Perfect” is about as tepid as they come, with forgettable lyrics to match, but when Scheuerman sings “one day, I’ll be perfect, I’ll be / So extraordinary, I will take your breath away!” we instantly believe him. And when a sensitive, pretty (and I’m resisting the temptation to say Coldplay-ish) guitar riff joins his smooth vocals, it’s all over.

“Rise” immediately struck me when I first heard it live, and the recorded version encapsulates everything I love about this band. It also, I’ll admit, plays to every musical weak spot I’ve got, namely acoustic guitar licks, tight harmonies, and I-IV-V chord progressions. For the first minute, it’s nothing that you’d blink if you heard it on a Top 40 station played by say, Simple Plan. The intricate folksy guitar work that seems appropriate is missing, but Schuerman’s strong sense of melody and confident singing (especially when his bandmates join him in stacked harmony singing, “Rise, rise, rise!”) is just delightful. Small, but exactly what it’s intended to be.

“Rise” is also a good point to talk about Army of Me’s place, if they have one, in the world of music made by Christians. I’ve never seen the band ever refer to themselves as a “Christian band” or be really associated with anyone who does, but lyrical themes and subtle scriptural imagery (or not so subtle, as in “Meet You at the Mouth”) make it indisputable. On “Rise,” for example, Scheuerman sings “I was lying in the gutter, crawling in the streets / now the servants are all sitting in the most distinguished seats.” He expresses, in one line, what it takes Aaron Shust entire albums of clichés to get across, and even does it with a deft reference to scripture that is intellectually acceptable and artistically appropriate.

Lest I get too into enjoying the sound of my own voice gushing, I will remind that Army of Me is indeed a young, radio-friendly alternative rock band and little more. _Citizen_ is nothing that hasn’t been done to a fault on rock radio, but it clings to a sensitivity that makes Army of Me’s take on the pop-rock track considerably more memorable. And on a surface level, they manage not to sound too much like anyone else in their league. Magnetic melody pervades not only Scheuerman’s vocal lines, but also every note played by lead guitarist Brad Tursi, who can make his strings weepily react to Scheuerman’s singing with an at times heart-wrenching subtlety (see “Better Run”). He does energetic just as well—“How Long” wanders closer to Yellowcard-like radio territory, but Tursi’s work makes an unsurprising song one that I’d actually listen to again.

“Meet You at the Mouth” is interesting for its clash of identities, this time between Scheuerman’s conventional, pop-appropriate singing and the rest of the band’s chance to mix up the repertoire. I won’t get Radiohead-comparison-happy, but Tursi’s soloing sounds much more like something off The Bends than it does Mae (which _Citizen_ faintly mirrors). It’s an intriguing glimpse into the band’s very apparent artistic intelligence and perhaps a nod to some good influences, but putting Vince’s voice through a filter doesn’t quite meet the need for a less-conventional vocalist to complete the left-of-center romp.

And falling too squarely in the center is where _Citizen_ ’s fault lies; it consistently clings to formula even as it recognizes the need to branch out. These songs do the formula well, but as a collection they’re ultimately grounded by it. As a set, mid-tempo drags and becomes sluggish, monotonous; tracks fade together and become forgettable. I’ve never heard a band pull off that sort of dazed disinterest as well as the Fray, and, late in the record, Army of Me floats down slowly, dangerously toward Frayishness. They’re more interesting, though, and this album should stay in the player a lot longer than How to Save a Life ever hoped to. Citizen is a satisfying if not exciting debut, and bears the marks of a band that might have it in them to become great. I guess in the sea of young men playing alternative rock, a little genuine earnestness goes a long way.

David Sessions is the editor of The CCM Patrol.

 
About The Author

David Sessions

David Sessions is the founding editor of Patrol. He studies intellectual history at New York University; his writing has appeared in The Daily Beast, Newsweek, Jacobin, Slate and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter here.