Reuben and the Dark’s sophomore album, Arms of a Dream, is a monumental artistic statement from the spirited folk outfit led by Canadian songwriter and vocalist Reuben Bullock. Over eleven songs, Reuben maps the rugged terrain of dreams, exploring the inversion of imagination & reality in his most vivid music to date. Reuben and the Dark shines a light on the fine detail of this darkness, with powerful imagery and lush sonic detail at the forefront. Whereas the debut album Funeral Sky lavished in low fidelity, the new album is a high-definition dream.
Produced by Stephen “Koz” Kozmeniuk, Adrianne “AG” Gonzalez, Graham Lessard, with mixing by Matty Green, Arms of a Dream distills the best of three years of songwriting exploration. The album is a magnification of the reckoning at odds in most souls – be it Reuben’s or our own – revealing the balance of extremes at play in every life scene. “These songs are extensions of something inside of me and writing them was a test of self-reflection. I closed my eyes and wrote down what I saw, trying to capture feeling as it floods and fades. A lot of production went into this album, but it still feels so raw to me. These words are my skin. These songs are my siblings.”
Arms of a Dream features Reuben and the Dark’s most transformative music to date. The album’s first single, “All or Nothing,” is an anthem that careens on the boundary of “confidence and complete desperation,” as Reuben describes it. Above a canyon of chiming guitars and rolling drums, Reuben’s voice exults in the triumph of risk over loss, and the salve of unconditional hope. The album finds Reuben working outside his comfort zone, both musically and lyrically. With uncharacteristically literal and intimate storytelling, Reuben confronts the entanglement of love & family at the heart of “All or Nothing.” He sings: My mother found solace in hiding her pain / My father a shepherd, no sheep to his name / I learned to keep all my feelings inside / With a mother to face and a father to fight.
The new dynamic lays the groundwork for personal, seismic change. Melodies of atmospheric peaks burst from the cracks in his solitary poetry – And the heart is a cage if the heart doesn’t change – as Reuben portrays the shift of his own soul. He says, “‘All or Nothing’ was locked in my head for a long time. When it was finally written, I was left with a feeling of freedom, of letting go. But I am careful not to corner it into a room that is too small. It is simple and universal. It isn’t a love song. It isn’t a protest song. It is an anthem of mine.”
Through the process of writing came the revelation of each song’s meaning, an experience that Reuben describes as “psychic, or transcendent.” Through his immersion in dreams, Reuben unlocked the cryptic symbolism of his narratives. In challenging his own creative systems, he was able to create imagery with photographic sharpness. “Hurricane” is a haunting song about the opposition of strength and vulnerability, a premonition of things happening in his life that he could only understand upon their completion. “It is about the discovery of being caught in the eye of the storm, and the power of holding some control of it,” Reuben says. “It confronts the idea of creating chaos for one’s own comfort.”
Tension and resolve is the unending pursuit of Arms of a Dream. It is a document in flux – one wrought with passion and stubborn conviction – of Reuben’s growth as an individual and a songwriter. Though soulful by nature, Reuben asserts that his music is neither light nor dark, but to be interpreted in both ways. This is no clearer than on “Dreaming”: a kinetic, soaring song unlike anything Reuben and the Dark has released to date. Liquid, freewheeling melodies lead the band through the exploration of newly open space. Here, in its most unexpected turn, Arms of the Dream feels most at ease, charged with the metric, electric current of an effortless tune. A band we believed we had pegged reveals a wonderful dimension of itself, as Reuben sings: “You don’t know what I’ve been dreaming of.”
On its title track, the album settles into a moment of reprieve. A lattice of reversed ambience and glinting guitar set an icy tranquility as the bed for this ballad. “It’s been a cold, cold night in this old heart of mine” echoes out like the cautious start of a new morning. Though it took its time to crystallize, Arms of a Dream is a courageous step forward for an artist evolving. This is Reuben at his most empowered – both heartened and broken-hearted – tracking a sound as powerful as the determination within him. With his lyrical imagery enhanced by intuitive production, Reuben and the Dark wrestles clarity from the depths of soulful reckoning. Arms of a Dream is an artwork both definite and enigmatic.