A.Armada: “The Dam was Split but the City was Saved”[audio:http://alarm-magazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/01_the_dam_was_split_but_the_city_was_saved.mp3|titles=A.Armada: “The Dam was Split but the City was Saved”]
It’s a radiant Sunday morning in Athens, Georgia, but sharp December winds cut down Washington Street. Local post-rock maestros Bryant Williamson and Jeremy Harbin of A.Armada duck into Trapeze Pub to escape the painful sting of 30-degree weather against unaccustomed Southern skin.
Four years ago, when the four-piece played its first sets around town, the venue belonged to a 24-hour joint called Hot Corner Coffee — an after-show (or even between-set) essential for many because of its prime real estate 50 feet from the front door of the famous 40 Watt Club. But Athens breeds rapid change for businesses and musicians alike.
A.Armada is one of the town’s many intrastate transplants, with founding members Matt Nelson and Josh McCauly hailing from Columbus, Georgia, a small town in the shadow of US Army post Fort Benning. Harbin, also from Columbus, was recruited two years ago while home for the holiday season. Between pulls of Trapeze coffee, Harbin explains why South Georgia was not a particularly fertile environment for dynamic instrumental melodies in the vein of Explosions in the Sky.
“In Columbus, it’s more like there’s a scene of kids who want to drink and smoke, and they play at a park,” he says. “And then there’s a bizarro scene of Christian kids who go to a church — and form screamo bands.”
Before last year, A.Armada maintained an under-the-radar presence in Athens, struggling to make a name for itself in an already elbow-to-elbow, headstock-to-headstock scene. Following the release of a self-titled EP in 2006, the textures of the group’s nimble yet emotive sound resonated with then-unaffiliated Williamson. “I randomly heard A.Armada playing at [Athens music venue] DT, and I just heard great-sounding guitar tones,” Williamson says.
“Bryant had been the guy in town I talked to about our sound anyway, because I valued his opinion. He was kind of a dickhead, you know? So I knew that he’d be honest.”
His own noise-punk band, Cinemechanica, had founded Hello Sir Records, home to voracious, genre-detonating factions like We Versus the Shark, So Many Dynamos, and Maserati. After A.Armada began opening for these soon-to-be-peers, enthusiasm grew among label loyalists. Hello Sir released A.Armada’s EP, Anam Cara, in February of 2009, with early supporter Williamson on bass. Nelson, meanwhile, began playing bass guitar in Cinemechanica.
“When Bryant started playing with us, and I started playing with Cinemechanica, good stuff started happening as far as causing people to give our band a listen,” Nelson says. “We just kind of fed off each other. Bryant had been the guy in town I talked to about our sound anyway, because I valued his opinion. He was kind of a dickhead, you know? So I knew that he’d be honest.”
A.Armada’s dogged presence and openness to criticism has yielded a consistent and stirring debut on its new label. Whereas the group’s first effort held fast to conventional structures, sounding more like a post-punk album with optional lyrics left out, Anam Cara is unhindered without being ostentatious. The members’ technical aptitude is evident but restrained, evidenced in the escalating tremolo of “Fall Triumph,” which collects itself in a soft-rolling breather, like a mild Yo La Tengo track with a marching snare.
The following song, “Into Days & Nights & Years & Months,” transitions from a measured shimmer into billowing shoegaze echo, concluding with a dreamy blend of both. This EP is a precious standout in an over-saturated genre that should have fans of Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Mogwai relishing its swales and zeniths.
Now in the process of writing their first full-length album, A.Armada’s members are adjusting to the newfound sense of belonging against the ever-evolving backdrop of their famous college town. “It took us so long — two years — before we were actually playing to anybody,” Nelson says. And although the band’s lineup and sound have diverged over the years, “We didn’t want to start all over, I guess,” Nelson says. “We never considered changing the name. A.Armada has always been Josh and me. It’s weird because we’re finally an Athens band.”