Ball of Wax 35 Songs: Sam Russell – “The Arena”

[It’s time once again to share with you, track by track, the songs from the upcoming volume of Ball of Wax. BoW 35 is devoted to the love song, and will be released Friday, February 14th at Lo Fi. Join us! -ed.]

Sam Russell (sans Harborrats for the moment) follows up the country waltz from Ball of Wax 34 with strident classic rock for the love song-themed Ball of Wax 35. “The Arena” has the same type of epic, Springsteenian majesty folks found in the Arcade Fire and We Are Augustines over the last half decade or so. The kick drum on every beat is inexorable, Russell’s pleading vocals are compelling and the acoustic guitars are down-strummed with gusto. Transient noises like streaking flange effects and electric guitar string noises bounce around like stray gunfire and explosions in a battle scene from a war movie, never disrupting the steady charge of the song. Despite the militant cadence of the vocals (actually, the militant cadence of pretty much everything about the song), the lyrics (by Molly Mac) are pretty inscrutable. Fragments stick out every once in again – “today will be a day / we rearrange all of our things” “then we start breathing together,” “maybe we need boats,” “the field looks flat to the onlookers” – but I can’t get a sense of the action or the topic, just the tone. And maybe that’s the great thing about love songs, how hyper-personal, inarticulate feelings and artifacts can congeal into passionate rallying cries that translate to broad swaths of people. I’m not sure what Sam Russell is singing about, but I’m totally on board and behind him every martial step of the way.

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