Poison Arrows: Playing on Prefix

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Playing on Prefix is a feature on KCRW’s Music Blog where writers from the eclectic music site Prefix hip you to what’s coming out of their computer speakers this week.

The fall of the music industry hasn’t just hit the major studios; it’s also been hard on the industry within individual cities, even those with as rich a musical history as Chicago. Justin Sinkovich, the frontman of Poison Arrows, is a veteran of Chicago’s music business — he founded Epitonic.com, which was recently relaunched to much acclaim — and has every reason to be dour about the circumstances. The torment of his personal and professional life have factored into the Poison Arrows’ “Newfound Resolutions,” the band’s second LP, a follow-up to 2009’s “First Class, and Forever.”

That album earned mass plaudits in its hometown but, due in part to the Poison Arrows’ inability to tour nationally (because of the band members’ day jobs) “First Class,” failed to pick up much attention outside the City of Big Shoulders.

Whereas “First Class” recalled and matched the best work of Slint and Mission of Burma (who the Poison Arrows opened for in Chicago this summer), “Newfound Resolutions” sounds more like Joy Division in its bleak emotional outlook (with less melodies and more soul), adding hard rock to the same emotional turmoil that The National took to the top of the charts.

Bassist Pat Morris has a more prominent role on the mix this time around, making “Newfound Resolutions” one of the more impressive album-long bass-guitar workouts in recent memory. At times, Sinkovich sounds like he’s about to weep (or is already weeping).

Synths are used in the best way: organic, soulful variations on how alienated the band is otherwise feeling. Tracks like “Flawed Acumen” and “Inadmissable Architecture” are difficult to describe but easy to listen to and marvel at.

As a whole, “Newfound Resolutions” is darker and more inscrutable than its already-intense predecessor, and it takes longer to fully appreciate. But it will help grow the band’s fanbase in the long run, because it’s the kind of album that will likely be obsessed over by like-minded fans.

Ethan Stanislawski