Like the sizzle of hot sparks hitting cold metal, Minneapolis’ Arcwelder splatters impassioned vocals over a chilling backdrop. There’s a frayed fury that lingers behind even the strongest hooks, the same tension-building mix that in the past has proven explosive for bands like Naked Raygun and Hüsker Dü, to which Arcwelder has most often been compared. With vibrant melodies that jump out of penetrating grooves, Arcwelder’s albums also tend toward more subdued soundscapes. If the Hüsker match doesn’t always apply, Arcwelder’s singing does owe something to Bob Mould’s disaffected tone. Drummer Scott Macdonald and guitarist Bill Graber share vocal duties — sometimes harmonizing, but often taking on differing melodies.
Completed by brother Rob Graber (bass/guitar), the trio debuted in 1988 as Tilt-a-Whirl and released its first album, This, under that moniker two years later. But the manufacturers of the carnival ride threatened to sue, and Tilt-a-Whirl became Arcwelder.
“Harmonic Instrumental” starts Jacket Made in Canada off with a characteristic mix of buoyant melodies and bottled aggression. Vocals on several cuts (the outstanding “Staback and Favor”) fall into the Mould pocket, but other tracks display the band’s experimental side, venturing into country parody on “I Hates to Lose” and essaying a surprising instrumental, “Bob Sez.”
Armed with such terse pop constructions as “Raleigh” and “Remember to Forget,” Pull again hits with harsh Big Blackened aggression and rhythms that churn and grind. A few tracks slow the pace, yet still seethe with anguish: see “What Did You Call It That For.” Though the repetition of lyrics and riffs gets monotonous, the vocal interplay adds a caustic beauty to the basic melodies of “Finish My Song,” “Lahabim” and “And Then Again.”
The appeal of Xerxes again rests on the band’s vocals; the second half of “Pound” pits two competing vocals over an hyper beat. The song constructions are more stylized, though the deliberate rhythms of “All My Want for Need” and “Change” have far less impact than the livelier tracks. “All Mixed Together” and the instrumental “Freebird” (not that one) provide punchy energy spurts. “The Carpal Tunnel Song” sounds like a punk interpretation of Brian Eno’s Here Come the Warm Jets, but nothing can top the snappy “Down to the Wire,” a fireball that keeps gathering heat as it goes.
Entropy continues Arcwelder’s successful quest to sharpen provocative lyrics and shapely song structures with a medium-grit abrasive edge, roughening the attack but staying inside the accessible safety zone of Midwest clangor. Pulling free of past stylistic associations, the trio ventures a more distinctive melodic noise, using dissonance, nagging guitar repetition, rhythmic invention and typically impressive singing to make its way. Graber’s “Doubt,” “Unknown” and “Blowin’ Smoke,” Macdonald’s “I Promise Not to Be an Asshole” and the collaborative “Snake Oil” are a varied and exciting set of multi-faceted winners; the rest of the album doesn’t lag far behind. (Crediting members of Boston for performing “Turn To” is an inexplicable joke, though.)