Ultrapop

The Armed

Ultrapop

“We wanted it to be bold. We didn’t want it to be an allusion to anything. We just wanted it to be what it is, like when you see a Renaissance painting called Man Holding Fish at the Market While Other People Walk By.” So says vocalist/guitarist Adam Vallely of The Armed about the title of the band’s fourth album, Ultrapop. The previously anonymous Detroit hardcore collective revealed their identities with the record’s announcement in early 2021—or so they’d have listeners believe. And while Vallely (if that’s his real name) certainly seems to be involved, along with folks named “Dan Greene,” “Cara Drolshagen,” and Urian Hackney (an actual person and drummer), one never knows. What seems almost certainly true is that Ultrapop features guest appearances from Mark Lanegan, Troy Van Leeuwen (Queens of the Stone Age), Ben Chisholm (Chelsea Wolfe), and Kurt Ballou (Converge), who may or may not have produced the album. Below, Vallely discusses each track.
“Ultrapop” “We wanted to open with a track that immediately made clear what our intentions were on this record. We wanted to throw you in the deep end. A big element aesthetically was trying to combine the most beautiful things with the most ugly things: There’s these really nice vocal arrangements that are pretty up-front, and then you have these power electronics and harsh noise accompanying it. So putting this song first is incredibly intentional. If you don't like this, you might as well get the fuck out right now.”
“All Futures” “Whereas ‘Ultrapop’ is throwing you in the deep end, we wanted this to be like a distillation of all the various elements you hear on the album. We wanted it to be very catchy, very cleverly composed, and really good. The first guitar lead is very St. Vincent-influenced, then Jonni Randall’s lead in the chorus has a very Berlin-era Iggy sound. Lyrically, it’s an anti-edgelord anthem. It’s saying that just pointing out your distaste for things is not inherently a contribution. It’s okay to dislike things, but if you’re devoting all your energy to contrarianism, you’re just anti.”
“Masunaga Vapors” “Keisuke Masunaga was one of the illustrators of the [anime] show Dragon Ball Z. He had a very distinct style with angularity and noses and eyes. But the song itself is based on Stéphane Breitwieser, who is a super notorious and prolific art thief from France who felt really connected to the pieces he would steal from museums. It’s a super chaotic but kind of uplifting song, and the whole thing is a confrontation about ownership and attribution in art and what belongs to who—and does any of it matter?”
“A Life So Wonderful” “The title just seemed like a really not nihilistic, not metal, not hardcore thing to say, and it’s applied somewhat ironically to the lyrical content of the song. Dan Greene wrote about 90 percent of it. He always works in this MIDI program that sounds like an old Nintendo game and then we have to apply real instrumentation. Lyrically, it’s about the deterioration of truth as a societal construct and how dangerous that can be. I know, a real original theme for 2021, but that’s what it’s about—information warfare, destabilization, and the eventual numbness that can come from that.”
“An Iteration” “This song was actually written almost in full during the Only Love sessions. But I think we all just felt that it was a bridge too far for that album, contextually—which was a real hard decision to make and made us feel like adult artists. But it’s one of my favorites on either of the records. Ben Chisholm really helped us nail this one and make it stronger. You can hear Nicole Estill from True Widow doubling my main vocal on everything, and then you can hear Jess Hall, who also sang on ‘Ultrapop,’ doing the hooks, because we wanted those to be real poppy.”
“Big Shell” “Around 2016, we started doing these splinter groups where just a few of us would play in Detroit under different names. We would play material that we were not sure if it was Armed material. This is one of those songs, and we decided it was definitely a good song for The Armed. It’s probably the most rock-oriented track on the album, and it’s really satisfying. Cara wrote the lyrics, but I know she’s speaking about presenting your real self to the world and letting anyone who doesn’t like it deal with it on their own accord, which is sort of the spirit of Ultrapop throughout.”
“Average Death” “This is the very first song we worked on with Ben Chisholm, and it really cemented the collaboration. It’s got this cool angular drum beat and this weird, lurching sort of groove throughout. Ben added a lot of gorgeous synths and the vocal break leading into the chorus. Urian did this undulating blastbeat that gives it these cool accents. But it’s a huge bummer lyrically—it’s about the abuses of actresses in 1930s Hollywood, that studio structure which is unfortunately a systemic issue that has not quite rooted itself out nearly a hundred years later.”
“Faith in Medication” “The bassline is kinda crazy, and there's a guitar solo by Andy Pitcher towards the end. He’s channeling serious '90s-era Reeves Gabrels—you can hear that the guitar doesn't have a headstock. Urian is absolutely beating the shit out of the drums with those cascading fills. Dan is obsessed with the visuals of '80s and '90s mecha-based anime where you see the fucking Gundams having some sort of dogfight in space. That's how he wanted the song to feel, and I think it absolutely feels like that.”
“Where Man Knows Want” “The track opens very sparse, and then it quickly lets the normal The Armed reveal itself in the choruses. Not unlike ‘All Futures,’ the beginning clearly owes a lot to Annie Clark. Kurt Ballou is playing everything you hear at the end that sounds like a stringed instrument. He’s the king of playing those heavy chords punctuated by feedback. Lyrically, the song is talking about the creative curse, the obsession with having a new idea and executing it—and tricking yourself into thinking that when you finish this, you can rest. But it never quite works that way.”
“Real Folk Blues” “Like ‘Masunaga Vapors,’ this song references a real person—Tony Colston-Hayter, who was this legendary acid-house rave promoter from the '80s who then in the mid-2010s was arrested for hacking into bank accounts and stealing a million pounds. The reason we became obsessed with the story is because he was hacking into the accounts using this insane machine that was like a pitch-shifting pedal taped to something else that basically allowed him to alter the gender of his voice and play prerecorded bank messages that would trick the systems to get into what he needed to get into.”
“Bad Selection” “This one was largely experimental as we were crafting it. We just wanted to break new ground with something, I think it’s very successful at doing that. Lyrically, it’s interesting because there’s a duality that presents the listener with a Choose Your Own Adventure kind of thing. With the chorus, is it about someone who’s keeping the faith in a better future, or is it about people being blinded by a violent faith in better days that had already gone by? One is really optimistic and one is very sinister, and they allude to real-world things.”
“The Music Becomes a Skull” (feat. Mark Lanegan) “This takes an unexpected dark and dismal turn at the end of the sugar rush that is the rest of the record. Dan had a specific vision for the vocals that our immediate group of collaborators couldn’t really execute on. We were talking about it with Ben Chisholm and Dan said, ‘We need Mark Lanegan to sing on it.’ I think he meant we needed someone that sounds like that. We didn’t expect to actually get Mark Lanegan. But within 24 hours, we had vocals from Mark Lanegan. As inconvenient as a collaborative effort like The Armed can be, it can also lead to something like this. I mean, I’m singing with Mark Lanegan on this. It’s so fucking cool.”

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