Locals: Tin Armor aims for simplicity in crafting dynamic new album

By Columbus Alive
From the September 19, 2013 edition

When Tin Armor guitarist/songwriter John Umland recently posted the group’s new album on Reddit, a commenter suggested the band listen to more Barenaked Ladies.

“‘You could learn more from their writing style,’” John recalled the comment as saying during a recent interview with Alive.

The Columbus quartet might not consider Barenaked Ladies an influence, but it’s getting better at distilling that long list (e.g., The Band, Weezer’s Pinkerton, Tom Petty, Bright Eyes’ The People’s Key) into something that sounds more like, well, Tin Armor.

In fact, Tin Armor has never been more Tin Armor than right now.

The band broke out after its debut, A Better Place Than I Have Been, earned opening spots for indie stalwarts like Frightened Rabbit and Born Ruffians. The album was a concisely energetic indie-rock, pop-punk punch to the face.

The group’s sophomore album, Life of Abundance, was flush with ideas, too many ideas really. The album didn’t just wear its influences on its sleeves, the influences fell out of its sleeves like the stuffing in a scarecrow.

“We were so excited for Life Abundance,” John Umland said.

“There were gospel songs and church choirs and feedback and lots of long songs,” singer-guitarist Matt Umland said.

For its third album, the self-titled Tin Armor, which will be celebrated Thursday at Ace of Cups alongside guest appearances by members of Saintseneca, Trains Across the Sea, Red Feathers and more, the band learned the power of the cut. By restricting influences, cutting bridges, simplifying song structures and adding depth to its sonic texture, Tin Armor crafted an album that’s immediately striking, but rewarding on repeated visits.

A tighter, more cohesive lyrical focus is also responsible. A streak of melancholy born of guilt and regret is threaded throughout, stemming mostly from being young (“Though it is hard to beat/Being happy and young/And mostly, that’s what I’m ashamed of”) and growing up (“It seems the goal of my life now is/Permanent growth not permanent bliss”).

“A lot of songs are about … sort of the tug between feeling like you’re moving forward, but also feeling the sort of tug of your history,” Matt Umland said. “Your history is a foundation for you, but it’s also an anchor.”

There was a time not long ago that Tin Armor seemed poised for national breakout success. That could still happen, but the group’s been around enough to know sometimes progress is incremental, but also, most importantly, progress is inevitable. Best enjoy the ride, wherever it goes, however slow its journey, because soon enough it’ll be over.

“At this point, I don’t really care [what the future holds for Tin Armor],” John Umland said. “I want to be enjoyed as much as possible, because I enjoy making [music] … so I want to keep doing it.”

Photo by Meghan Ralston