Armor for Sleep – What to Do When You are Dead

Armor for Sleep
What to Do When You are Dead

Where Armor for Sleep sounded promising on Dream to Make Believe, the band triumphed on What to Do When You are Dead. Altering the band’s former indie-rock tendencies, AFS goes on a dark rock romp on this sophomore release. Also a concept album, the songs detail the travels of someone in the afterlife. (Rewind from “Car Underwater” to hear a hidden track, the ultra depressing “Suicide Note.”) The whole concept may be unexpected from AFS, but it’s pulled off through flawless songwriting and lyrics.

Few concept albums are as focused as What to Do When You are Dead when peers are taken into consideration. Even the amazing Animal Farm-inspired Ribbons and Sugar by Gatsby’s American Dream is difficult to decipher. AFS’s deceased tale has a linear plot that the lyrics faithfully flesh out. From opener “Car Underwater,” the first lyrics sung are, “Believe the news, I’m gone for good. Call off the search, no one will know that I am down here.” The album storyline can even be interpreted simply via song titles, beginning with the subject’s actual death (“Car Underwater”) and finishing with his somber reflectiveness (“The End of a Fraud”).

Just like the story has no hangups, the album flows naturally in mood and sound. Following the first five chorus-heavy rockers, “Flying Above Everything” depresses the mood through sampling and a droning effect on Ben Jorgensen’s voice. After that point, the songs progressively venture into more a experimental, spacey sound. The seamless transition from the electric “Basement Ghost Singing” into the acoustic pickings of “Walking at Night, Alone” showboats AFS’s ability to effortlessly build bridges. Soaring female backup vocals complete final epic “The End of a Fraud” in Dark Side of the Moon fashion. With some diligence, all of the album’s painstaking details can be fully digested. It’s not like you’ll ever need to skip tracks – they’re all winners.

If an AFS live show comes nearby, there’s no reason not to go. The band still rocks the title track and “My Town,” both fan favorites from Dream to Make Believe. The rest of the set is unarguably more intense, where the band plays the hell out of new material. Sliding chords and a singalong choruses make “The Truth About Heaven” a powerful set opener and one of the catchiest new numbers. The whole audience is feeling it when the second chorus hits home, the downtrodden declaration of “Don’t believe that it’s better when you leave everything behind. Don’t believe that the weather is perfect the day that you die.”

People who only casually liked AFS before now have reason to become full-blown fans. Saying What to Do When You are Dead has avoided the “sophomore slump” is completely true, but also an understatement. With the massive praise this has earned the band, it’s likely to be remembered on many “Best of 2005” lists. AFS may still play the role of opening act, but with these songs it’s only a matter of time before a promotion.