Armies

Armies II

Armies
Armies II
self-released

As the leading creative force behind Rustic Overtones, Dave Gutter arguably achieved more mainstream success than any Portland artist in the 1990s. He wove elements of modern rock, ska and nü metal into the Overtones’ sound, at a time when all those genres were on the radio. With his latest outfit, the five-piece group Armies, the sounds are different, but the strategy is the same. The horn sections and heavy guitars have been jettisoned in favor of moody, synth-drenched R&B and hook-heavy pop — in other words, much of what’s on the radio these days. On the Portland band’s second LP, its strongest element continues to be the vocal interplay between Gutter and another local star, Anna Lombard (formerly of Gypsy Tailwind). Lombard’s rich, resonant tenor injects some needed earthiness to these expensive-sounding recordings. It’s the ideal counterpoint to Gutter’s weathered, straightforward vocals. When they’re trading couplets about relationships, Armies is at its best. And when they do that over breezy funk walkabouts like “Deeper,” we see their tantalizing potential. But II is, above all, a swing-for-the-fences pop album, and its most blatant attempts at landing hits are also its most prominent failures. The first single, “Young Criminals,” is catchy in a cynical way, pairing wistful lyrics about childhood shoplifting with a happy-go-lucky piano loop lifted straight from the Macklemore playbook. And the big power ballad, “Social Life,” can’t bear the weight of its melodramatic production. Its @EleanorRigby concept about lonely people on social media is tired enough; factor in puns about Twitter, following, liking, etc., and I’m getting the distinct urge to unfriend.