In July of last year, I declared here that Tucson's hardcore heroes The Bled were "the best goddamn rock band in Arizona." Now it's time for a new christening -- Army of Robots fucked up the whole paradigm and established a new gold standard for Arizona.
Army of Robots defies easy branding; it's a self-professed "electronic-tinged rock band," but that phrase fails to evoke the combination of near-emo pop hooks, crushing guitar riffs, and the layers of digital bleeps, beats that can jump to 140 bpm, and all-around computerized mayhem beneath the standard guitar/keys/bass/drums lineup. All that, matched with Daggrr's often witty, deep, emotive lyricism, makes Secret to Everybody an anomalous blend of stylistics that I'm absolutely confident anointing as the local album of this barely born year.
Like a lot of people in the 'Nix, I'd heard the name and seen Army of Robots stickers in bar restrooms everywhere, but I'd never actually heard the band's music. I met Daggrr a couple years back at the infamous Tempe party compound/apartment complex Country where he lives (and records), but only recently heard what he, with bandmates Seth Ludeman and Bryon Anderson (who both play guitar and keyboards), drummer Scott Gunshore, and new bass player Micah Killough, produced sonically. Turns out that's by design.
"The album title is a reference to that," Daggrr told me on a recent beer-drenched afternoon, sitting in a cloud of cigarette smoke with his bandmates on his porch. "This band is very enshrouded in mystery to a lot of people. A lot of people don't even know we're from Phoenix. We're like the yeti; we don't want people to know if we really exist."
He's only half-joking. Other than a well-publicized opening gig for Radio Free America (whose album Daggrr produced) last Friday night, the only two shows Army of Robots had ever played prior to their February 5 CD release party were secret; I didn't even know about them despite several nights drinking with Daggrr around the same time.
The anonymity factor will change with the release of Secret to Everybody. The album's too fucking good to ignore, and the band wants its first proper album on the streets. "This is the first time we've had something we can be proud of and say, 'Look, this is Army of Robots,'" Daggrr says.
The album opens with a collage of white noise and atmospheric whooshes, with a keyboard line that dissolves into acoustic guitar strumming over a video-game bass line on "Too Close." Behind it all are stuttering breakbeats, some done in the studio on a drum set by Anderson, some too complex for human hands to create. The song is a kiss-off of sorts, where Daggrr croons, "I want you to know this. I want you to care. Because I've been drinking too and thinking about me," and concluding, "I can't let you get too close baby."
There are obviously a few retreads of past relationships on Secret to Everybody, but the bulk of the album isn't your rote boy/girl heartbreak shit. "I have a habit of writing songs about writing songs, and most of my lyrics are about the songwriting process, or the process of being a musician," Daggrr explains. This is most obvious on tracks like "The Heaviest Cure," an anthemic meditation on the tribulations of a struggling artist, where Daggrr straightforwardly asks, "How could I walk away from the only thing I ever really wanted to be and become nothing more than a lesson for those who come after me?"
The one thing Secret to Everybody isn't is hard. If you're averse to introspection, melodicism, or pop-rock choruses, it's not for you -- go put your Slayer CD back on the stereo. 'Cause sometimes Army of Robots are straight softies, like on the muted "Let Go," where guitar notes fall like a gentle rain around adoring declarations like, "You are . . . tiny lights that dance below the treetops; the places I may never live to see."
I could write a doctoral thesis on the merits of each individual song on Secret to Everybody, but the joy in music lies in your own interpretations of it, so I'll leave it to you to analyze the record further.
I'll be goddamned surprised if this self-released record doesn't land Army of Robots the deal it deserves with a good record label. Deal or no, the band members are already counting their blessings. "I'm not rich, I'm not famous, but I'll be damned if I'm not really happy and satisfied with what I've done so far," Daggrr told me, well-lubricated with PBR and Tecate. "I hope it gets bigger and crazier, and if someone wants to pay me to have this much fun, fuckin' awesome, that's great. But you know what? That's icing on the cake."