Peter Wolf Crier's debut record, 2010's Inter-Be, was interesting because felt incomplete. With its rough hewn mix of thundering drums and ragged guitars, with songs like "Demo 01" and "Untitled 101," it sounded like the band was just getting started. Their sophomore record, Garden of Arms, confirms that notion. This is a completely different record, so much so the band is nearly unrecognizable as the same duo from a year ago.
These songs are fully fleshed out, complete and roiling statements of purpose, and if Inter-Be had you drawing shrugging comparisons to folkies like M. Ward, Garden of Arms is a much more distinct sound. Front man Peter Pisano still plays a jangling guitar, but it often takes a backseat to a thick helping of keyboards. "Right Away" churns with cool swells of sound under Pisano's echoed and plaintive vocals. "Hard Heart" takes a harsher path, as the keyboards buzz and seeth over the track, punctuation the tension between Pisano's drifting vocals and drummer Brian Moen's hard-hitting, intricate percussion.
In fact, the smartest move here is how this new atmosphere -- full of as many rabbit holes as it has noisy clusters -- is that it puts Moen's excellent drumming front and center. The interplay between his precision and the pulled-on notes of Pisano's singing is where a lot of most compelling moments come out on this record. It also gives them room to explore different moods with these new elements. "Beach" is a charging rock breakdown. Moen's cymbals shatter the track, and Pisano cuts through the thick keys with a sharp, insistent riff. It's the loudest moment on the record, but it then yields to the most fragile on "Having it Out," a song as impressive in its exhausted beauty as "Beach" is in its rumbling fever.
There are a few growing pains in this new sound, as some of the second half settles into a mid-tempo thump on tracks like the overly long "Setting it Off" or the gloomy "Never Meant to Love You." But hell, there's also the lean, punchy "Loud Enough to Know" buried in that second half, and its enough to hold up those other tracks. Garden of Arms is a great example of a band unafraid to branch out, and push themselves. Inter-Be was good, but this record proves the band can make a sound uniquely theirs. In doing so, they've also made something far more lasting.