After throwing their fans for a loop by shifting their outlook from their first album's bright noise pop to their second's gloomy post-punk, Girls Names' third album doubles down on the somberness and despair, strips off a layer of studio gloss, and adds some tricky bits to the arrangements. Arms Around a Vision has a grittier feel and tougher sound, with jagged guitars and loud drums, while at the same time the band shows a more nuanced way of arranging the songs. The dynamic shifts within the songs are bracing, the differences in tone from song to song keep listeners guessing, and the subtleties in the arrangements are a definite step forward. This change in approach allows for the transmission of more emotion and excitement, something the slicked-back style of New Life didn't always allow. Vocalist Cathal Cully certainly got the memo and he cuts through the mix like he's singing to save his life. Sometimes conjuring up Nick Cave and his dramatic fury, sometimes sounding like Ian Curtis plugged into a light socket, Cully is engaged and out front in a way he hasn't been before. It may take a spin or two to get used to this big change, but once on board, it's easy to get caught up in his emotional whirlwind -- especially taking into account how good the clanging, careening music sounds and how hooky most of the songs are. The shorter, more explosive tracks are the first to make an impression as they lash and slash their way into your brain. "An Artificial Spring" and "Malaga" are the kind of post-rock meets pop that mixes sweet melodies and spiky sentiments very well. The longer songs that mix motorik grooves with moody textures while slowly evolving and mutating, like "Chrome Rose," with its shocking ending, are those that sink in the deepest. Unlike their previous two albums, Arms Around a Vision isn't simple to get into. It might take a little work, but it's an enjoyable endeavor and it makes for an ultimately more enjoyable album in the long run.
AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra