On the 2009 debut album Inter-Be, Twin Cities duo Peter Wolf Crier put an appealing spin on indie-folk thanks to the orthogonal approaches of its two creative halves, with the downcast, Nick Drakean songwriting and high-pitched, haunting vocals of Peter Pisano sent off in unexpected directions by the refreshingly experimental production of percussionist/engineer Brian Moen. Since it worked so well the first time, it’s good to find the duo doubling down on its collaborative technique on Garden Of Arms. Moen deepens and expands on Inter-Be’s rich palette, building out Pisano’s meditative and even somber songs into complex, layered creations spiced with surprising fills, melodic touches, and glitchier elements that keep the mood from ever settling in one place. It’s clearly a more polished piece of work than its predecessor, but never slick or lacking in personality, and never dull.
At the same time, the sometimes-confounding complexity also means the album lacks Inter-Be’s immediate charm. Sometimes the commendable desire to keep the sonic environment unpredictable and engaging gets in the way of a potentially great song, as on the lovely, lonely ballad “Having It Out,” whose abrupt finish undercuts the impact of its soaring, Arcade Fire-like emotion. But far more often, the constantly evolving layers of drum riffs and harmonies galvanize the material into something that practically demands repeated listens to savor its piquancy. “Right Away” and “Hard Heart” prove how compelling the band’s approach can be on more uptempo numbers, but the ethereal “Wheel” keeps the multi-faceted production in full spin without sacrificing its quiet and contemplative beauty.