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[Archive] Arms & Hearts - "Too Much Sleep, Not Enough Dreams" EP Review

Note: this piece was originally published in Forgotten Chords on 14/06/2017. The original piece can be read here.

Steve Millar, AKA Arms & Hearts, is a folk-punk troubadour based in Manchester, and is one of the best acts on the scene at the moment. Over the last year, they've played impressive support slots, culminating in a headlining show at Gullivers last month. Seeing them live is always an invigorating experience, with their intensely impassioned vocals ensuring that everyone in the audience connects with their often deeply emotional songs. Their launch show for this new EP, Too Much Sleep, Not Enough Dreams, was the best I'd ever seen them play, and with the four songs recorded here, they've captured the power of their live shows excellently.

The first track and lead single Racketeers is an excellent opening track, with some gentle guitar giving us a warm introduction to the album. "This silver line is getting thinner," Steve sings in a fantastic opening line, as they sings of the anxiety of living in a city that's been dragging them down, and "waiting for something sincere" over Springsteenian guitars and harmonica. The chorus blossoms with some fantastic backing vocals and some layered electric guitars from Chloe Hawes. "I can't seem to tell from my self-doubt and my fear," goes the insistent refrain that's grown on me with every listen. Steve's Brian Fallon influence is clear on this track, particularly in the fantastic outro verse. It feels like a refinement of themes displayed on previous releases such as the Set In Stone EP, highlighting their growth as a songwriter.

The next song and pseudo-title track, Embers, was one I'd heard played live regularly ahead of the album's release, raising my anticipation for a recorded version, and I was really pleased to find it's even better on record than live.. Perhaps the most instantly loveable track on here with both acoustic and electric rhythm guitars throughout, creating a propulsive atmosphere. The chorus is instantly memorable, with a great lead guitar line simmering under its hook of "we'll all burn like embers" refusing to leave my head since the first time I heard it live - indeed, at the EP launch, a crowd of people who'd not heard it recorded yet were all singing back, proving its brilliance. The highlight of the song comes at the end with a final chorus with slightly tweaked lyrics, where the electric guitars and backing vocals burn out, leaving just Steve and their acoustic guitar, singing in a softer register, with some of the most heartfelt lyrics on the record:

and then I heard sirens cutting through the melancholy haze

I no longer believe in apologies, it will all fall on deaf ears

I've always been scared of failing

I guess that will never change

I guess we all burn out the same.

A similar device is used in the next track, Blue Sky Minds, which may well be my favourite track on the EP, if not the entire Arms & Hearts discography. It's the most upbeat song on here, and the way it builds from just lightly plucked acoustic guitars into a gentle storm of distorted lead guitar work, palm muted strums and handclaps, "This isolation still gets the better of me," Steve sings, echoing themes from Racketeers, expanding upon their feelings of anxiety. To me, the "blue sky minds" of the title is a place of mental stability and peace to aspire to. "I feel soulless, ignored the warning signs," goes the fantastic chorus, "and I can't keep coming back to this." The instrumentation builds throughout, with the final chorus sounding defiant. This leads into a melodic guitar solo, before the laceratingly honest outro, where Steve admits that they're going to get some help, so they can sit back and enjoy the blue skies. It's brave stuff, and it took me aback when listening for the first time. It's nakedly emotional moment that elevates this song to a career highlight so far, outshining some of their influences.

The closing track, High Times, High Tides strips back all the instrumentation of the previous songs to just a solo acoustic performance with some harmonica, recorded live in Salford Trinity Church. It's an interesting move that pays off well, with the acoustics adding to the atmosphere. It's a song that Steve's played live for a long time - usually as an intro to previous single Lost from 2015's Set In Stone EP - but it works much better standing as its own, and in the context of this EP. It's a really intimate closing track that sums up the themes of the release well.

All in all, I love this record. I've enjoyed the previous Arms & Hearts EP (especially the aforementioned Set In Stone), but this blows them out of the water. The lyrics throughout are of a consistently golden standard, and there's not a single weak link - every track is a winner. Additionally, I really enjoyed Alex Rennie's artwork, with each quadrant on the cover representing one of the four songs. As Steve's second release for Under the Bridge records, it's a triumph, and I can't wait to see how they expand on this in the future.

Arms & Hearts' Too Much Sleep, Not Enough Dreams is released through Under The Bridge records. Get yourself a copy here:

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