When you first arrive in New York City, the rats do not greet you with fruit baskets, the subway routes feel labyrinthian and the only knocks coming from your neighbors are the sounds of their headboards smacking against your walls. It is no surprise, then, that after arriving in New York from Boston in 2004,Todd Goldstein felt depressed. “I think my insides just realigned,” he says.The guitarist, who started out playing in folk, jazz and jam bands and moved to indie rock and power pop groups in college, began experimenting with a sound that was “a lot slower and a lot sadder.” He called his solo project ARMS, his inspiration being a British rapper named EARS. “I liked the idea of a plural body part as the name of your project.” Goldstein, now 27 and living in Williamsburg, wanted ARMS to hit listeners on a deeper emotional level. “I started really thinking about music that cut to the heart of me,” he says. He consciously adopted a singing style that he felt would pair best with his melancholic songs: the croon.The vocal was meant to sound “like a rock ‘n’ roll Chet Baker in my mind,” Goldstein says, though the pitch sliding conjures less Baker and more Stephin Merritt of The Magnetic Fields.The results of his solo work made up the first EP from ARMS, Shitty Little Disco, released in 2006.That year also found Goldstein joining up with Harlem Shakes after “they had just fired their 19th guitarist.”
Despite joining a band, Goldstein continued to find time to work on his solo material. His EP piqued interest at the U.K.
label Melodic, and the label requested that he put together a full-length album.Two years later, in the summer of 2008, Melodic released ARMS’ Kids Aflame, an album of guitar-centered tracks whose bright melodies temper Goldstein’s somber, crooning vocals, creating some thing despairing without throwing listeners into a depression.The album got its proper U.S. release in October 2009 on Gigantic Music, shortly after Harlem Shakes, also on the label, disbanded that September. Goldstein seems reluctant to talk about his former band, only to say that he is unsure whether or not there will ever be a reunion.
Goldstein never viewed being in a band as detracting from his solo work, which he says he can always find time to do. But the end of Harlem Shakes did leave him with even more time to focus on ARMS. No massive touring plans are slated yet, aside from two New York shows and a stop at South by Southwest, but Goldstein looks forward to getting the chance to work with a full band again, since ARMS live will consist of a three-person collective, which he says “evokes something bigger for such a small group.”
Jan. 23, Knitting Factory, 361 Metropolitan Ave. (at Havemeyer St.), Brooklyn, 347-529-6696; 7, $10.