Riley Armstrong debuted over five years ago with his self-titled album on the then-brand-new Flicker Records. His unique blend of acoustic guitars, soft vocal melodies and electronic sensibilities lead to draw a Steven Curtis Chapman meets Beck comparison. With strong tracks like the drum track-driven "The Only" or the delightfully silly "Sleep," Armstrong left quite the impression. Unfortunately, it didn't seem like he really stuck all too well in the Christian music scene. Following his quietly released follow-up Whatever The Weather in 2002, Armstrong seemed to all but disappear...
To keep up with Armstrong these days, a fan has to be a little aggressive. Since a recent marriage and a mostly underground presence (with it stronger in his home country of Canada), blurbs on Riley's whereabouts in Christian music have seemed a little hard to find. But this Summer, three years after his last release, Riley has pieced together ten tracks that closely pick up where his debut left off five years ago, and has created his best project since, strangely titled La Loop.
Armstrong pulls the title La Loop from King Solomon's experiences in Ecclesiastes 1:5, relating it to his own journeys in life. The title seems to be appropriate to describe the album's overall approach as well. Musically, the album feels a lot like his 2000 debut, somewhat coming full circle. This of course has its good points and bad. While it's wonderful to hear some more of the stronger elements that really made that album a success, some of it feels a bit too familiar. Armstrong doesn't experiment too much on his vocal deliveries. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, since it helps keep a constant relaxed and soothing vibe throughout the record, but it also causes a few songs to run together.
The latter portion of La Loop seems to contain the album's strongest material. The opening tracks "Anthem from 4th Place," "All the Good Ideas are Gone," and the romantic, string-enhanced "Melting" get the album started, but it's the worshipful "Above Every Name" that really stands out. "A Calendar for Clean Water" seems to almost pick up where "Patiently" left off before it picks up, utilizing a few well-placed "Yeah, yeah's" that would make Dan Haseltine proud. "Fall To Find You" gets its charm from a classic pop drum loop and keyboard melody that support Armstrong's lyrics about finding humility in falling before Christ. "Cassette Decks" is an album highlight, a lament over the time lost while browsing through an old cassette that is reminiscent of Beck's work. "Cell Phone" follows in the same vein, another fun highlight that tells the story of Riley's experience with losing his cell in the wash.
It's a treat to have Riley Armstrong back behind the mic for a third outing. La Loop doesn't stray very far at all from Armstrong's previous efforts, but remains a strong alternative pop record nonetheless. Fans of Armstrong will be delighted with La Loop, and those unfamiliar with his previous efforts should find this a perfect opportunity to get acquainted with this fine artist.- Review date: 6/15/05, written by John DiBiase
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