Arms and Sleepers tackles difficult, traumatic memories in the most gentle, graceful way possible with What Tomorrow Brings

Release date: March 1, 2024 | Pelagic Records | Facebook | Instagram | Bandcamp

I must say, the streak I’ve had with reviews lately has been a fun one. I’m taking on less metal nowadays (at least on this site) and trying to expand the palate more where possible or desired. This is what ultimately led me to Arms and Sleepers‘ doorstep and I gleefully jumped onto review What Tomorrow Brings without even hearing a single track, just being cursorily familiar with the artist.

Mixing ambient and trip-hoppy soundscapes with the occasional vocals, it was easy to get into what Arms and Sleepers was selling here. Every track is a meditative extraction built on memory and emotion. What Tomorrow Brings is conceptual in that it’s loosely formed around a greater idea – sole member/producer Mirza Ramic’s family’s escape from the Bosnian War of the 1990s and the loss of his father in that violence. Certainly a heavy subject, but one that’s navigated with a breadth of textures and sounds that may not capture the chaos of battle and blood spilled in it, but the in-between thoughts and feelings, the wishes, the hopes, the desire for a better future, and wondering what tomorrow will bring.

Thoughtfulness pervades the core of What Tomorrow Brings. While I’m sure it’s something Ramic wanted to handle with the appropriate weight, what you get across 17 songs doesn’t feel nearly as laborious as the intent would imply. Then again, sometimes the references to its themes are alarmingly blatant, they stands out exceedingly. Like on “O-R-I-O-N” which features artist YEYEY, the bones of which are very much a lo-fi adjacent cocktail of snappy drums, warm and wear-faded samples, windy synths, and up-front vocals that complement it all so well. Then the first verse hits you: ‘I’m not a jealous guy/Just want to take you for a ride in my whip/I’m walking off a genocide‘. It captures a desperation to move past harsh memories and trauma in lieu of some normalcy, the hum of the melody representing a restless mind that can’t quite quiet itself fully.

Arms and Sleepers‘ music never veers into too-real territory despite all this though. It’s very much equipped for casual listens and you can treat it as one. This type of music really makes me think of liminal spaces and how sometimes it’s not so much about where you’re going, but how you got there. You can take a path that really plays to your senses, pleasing you aesthetically without sacrificing directness or safety, and they come in so many flavors. The notch up in glitchy harshness and borderline industrial attitude of “Anaconda” makes urban construction come to mind, like walking through a part of a building under renovation with its concrete bones on display like some brutalist skeleton. “Blue Ride / Hell’s Rain”, one of my favorite songs on this album, is groovy as hell with a prominent sample or vocal cut that repeats the song’s title(s) with panache and swagger, perfect for navigating rain-soaked alleys with dance music playing in one of the adjacent brick buildings, bass vibrating the asphalt under your feet.

“Fathers and Sons” carries a light melancholia you’d expect knowing what we know about the themes, like repeating memories in a blue-tinted lens that bring comfort as much as they do longing and sadness. Though Arms and Sleepers uses a relatively small sonic canvas, it’s layered so well that they say just as much if not more than songs with poetically penned lyrics or grandiose instrumental sections that require a small orchestra to convey. “Yesterday’s Sorrow” is similarly placed mood-wise, awash with the dark colors of an overcast day, yet still preoccupied with momentum to move you through your day. I really love the mixture of the lively drums and piano here – another very strong track that I found myself returning to more than others.

There is a keen feeling soul at the center of What Tomorrow Brings, built on empathy and compassion for the past, our present, and indeed the future as the title implies. Ramic never lets the motive for this album weigh too heavily on the listener, instead it’s mostly in the subtext (or the lyrics if you listen to/read them) and range of colors the album uses. You can still put this on in the background and nod your head a bit in an ‘easy listening’ sort of way, but the enjoyment really comes out of meeting it where it’s at – finding the purpose in each note and progression in each song, envisioning what it must’ve meant for Ramic to put things exactly where they lie. Even if you’re wrong, you’re forming your own narrative in your head and engaging with the art, and isn’t that why a lot of us are here?

What tomorrow brings, if this album is anything to go off of, is a better day. While not explicitly optimistic, Arms and Sleepers fashions a beacon of hope simply by surviving and finding the spirit to create music like this that is very driving, pushing you to your next day, your next destination, your next encounter. At our lowest, we seek reasons to keep going and it’s clear that this project has been at least one reason for Ramic ever since it launched almost 20 years ago, and it’s my hope he’s found a peace in it just as I have at this moment of listening to it. There’s a lot to love with What Tomorrow Brings – what do you get out of it?

David Rodriguez

David Rodriguez

"I came up and so could you, and fuck the boys in blue" - RMR

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