The Hard Lessons received a lot of accolades for ambition with their last album, 2008's, well, ambitious B&G Sides, a four-sided collection of (mostly) previously released singles. But, damn if Arms Forest, the band's second full-length and first without drummer Christophe Zajak-Denek, isn't even more ambitious. Or at least it's a damn sight more eclectic and much fiercer.
Sometimes a reflection of life and love in a decaying city, the CD takes its title from the Wayne State University area apartment complex that burned early last year, destroying the original Peoples Records store and leaving many homeless. It's now become an obvious metaphor in the hands of Augie and Korin Louise Visocchi, who, in an earlier era, might've been rock 'n' roll hippie royalty (and that's meant as a compliment!). The album kicks off with "Manoogian Zoo," a title that probably means more to folks living in Michigan than anywhere else on earth, as it name-checks our Detroit Zoo, references, um, a recent D-town scandal, and offers the listener a bit of musical and lyrical weirdness as strange as anything on the last album.
But then things do get fierce, as well as hook-heavy, with the title track and "Sound the Silent Alarm," both of which are anything but silent or even quiet, with riffs as delectable as some of those created by Neil Young, one of this duo's primary musical influences; the latter track is also reminiscent of the Dandy Warhols at their insane, indulgent best. And Arms Forest is at its best when at its wildest. Korin does have a lovely voice, and it's used to great effect on blues tunes ("Talk It Over," which has a refrain that somewhat recalls the Bee Gees' "Jive Talkin'") and ballads (the pretty "Wedding Ring"; "St. Christopher").
Nevertheless, the album gains its most momentum and force when Augie and Korin are rawkin', dudes and dudettes. And there are, thankfully, many instances of them doing just that, again with delicious hooks and riffs galore. Especially great is the affecting "See You Again," a powerful piece of pop perfection — and a duet between the married couple — that brings to mind everything from T. Rex to Sonny & Cher to some of power-pop's grandest bubblegum-based moments. And the infectious "Irish Wristwatch" and the explosive "Tired Straits (Nothing But Time)" then follow with a rockin' double-whammy.
Give 'em an A-plus for more than just ambition and effort this time out. Arms Forest is, quite simply, for the most part, some terrific rock 'n' roll music.
The Hard Lessons play three different CD release parties this week: Thursday, May 21, at the Belmont, 10214 Joseph Campau, Hamtramck; 313-871-1966; Friday, May 22, at Small's Bar, 10339 Conant St., Hamtramck; 313-873-1117; and Saturday, May 23, at the Lager House (early all-ages barbecue), 1254 Michigan Ave., Detroit; 313-961-4668.
Bill Holdship is the music editor of Metro Times Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.