Album Review: Set In Stone – Arms & Hearts

Steve Millar, AKA acoustic folk-punk artist Arms & Hearts, released his third EP yesterday. Acoustic folk-punk is an unusual genre, but Millar manages to pull it off in his new music. Set In Stone, a five-track set, features themes of despondency, purposeless drifting, and bleak thinking. At times, while this may clash with the album’s more cheerful sound, Millar manages to pull the two together nicely. Often, however, the lyrics are difficult to decipher.

Currently unsigned, Millar is doing things his way. With three self-booked tours, traveling only on public transportation, the determination that he has to make it is clear.

Listen to the EP below, and click through to Millar’s Bandcamp for more!

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The album cover.

The first song, Lost, is one of aimless wandering. Contrary to what the title says, Millar sings about how he is not in fact, lost, because to be lost he would have to know his destination. His voice is harsh as he sings desolate lyrics such as, “And I guess I should just let it go/and accept my fate”. Adding to this despondent feeling, the only instruments used are acoustic guitar and banjo. Although a sad one, this track is catchy and easy to groove to. Lost is followed by I, Malcontent, a more upbeat song involving the melancholy lyrics that Millar so well ties together. This piece sounds cheerful, despite lyrics that are even more disheartening than before, like when Millar sings, “Well, I’m too young to be coughing up blood/and I’m too old to be holding onto these dreams”. The guitar and banjo are joined this time by an instrument that sounds like an electric guitar, which adds a haunting tone to the song. The Rain, the next song, once again follows the theme of despondency. A harmonica is added in this time, which is surprisingly refreshing (I never thought I’d see the day when I described a harmonica as “refreshing”). The song sounds bitter and regretful when the lyrics are taken into account. The fourth and second-to-last song, Dust & Bone, includes harsh, almost angry vocals that seem to be singing about depressive episodes and maybe suicidal thoughts, which are evidenced in the lyrics, “I know I said I’d be long gone by now/I wait for the day, I wait for the day it all fades away”. The emotion in Millar’s voice is easily heard. Last but not least, Take No Prisoners. This one is a bit harder to decipher lyrics, but a few lines stood out, such as, “It’s so dark and I’m missing home/I don’t have to prove anything to anyone”. On many albums, there’s always one song that seems to be a good crying song. Take No Prisoners is that song.

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Steve Millar, AKA Arms & Hearts.

The genre of “acoustic folk-punk” is certainly an unusual one, but in this case, it’s not bad. The sound is simple, with minimal instrumentation, yet harsh. Many of Millar’s influences, such as Chuck Ragan, The Gaslight Anthem, and Bob Dylan, are clearly heard in his music. Set In Stone is another entry on Millar’s exploration as a musician, and it’s clear that his future sound will be unique, melancholy-yet-cheery, and certainly one that we’ll be listening to for a long time.

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