On Summer Skills, ARMS’ former emotional directness is abstracted and expanded into something more ambitious and ambiguous: a keenly observed fictional universe that shows more than it tells. With Stoneback behind the boards, drums pop and shimmer, analog synths cast audible shadows and ambient clouds glow on the horizon, rendering ARMS’ golden guitar pop something both lovelier and more ominous than before. Todd’s unmistakable baritone is the anchor; it swoops and slides into view, veering between vulnerable, seductive and, maybe, a little bit dangerous. The resulting noise calls to mind the atmospheric clarity of British pop experimentalists like Talk Talk or Kate Bush, with a nod to the minimalist melancholy of Red House Painters and the end-over-end urgency of early REM. But ARMS ‘ noise is all their own, taking the no-nonsense bones of tight songcraft and covering them in shining skin.
Amid the life-or-death stakes of Summer Skills, noses drip kerosene, chill winds blow sweet and razor-sharp teeth gleam in the darkness. It’s this terrain of texture and mood, set among the long purple shadows of August afternoons, that underpins the album’s sequence of haunting moments — little nightmares lit with the blurry shine of dreams. With Summer Skills, ARMS manages the elusive trick of weaving these threads into something both lush and beautifully, painfully alive.