North of Northwest: A Tale of Three “Cities”
Band names, like troubles, come in threes: Wolf Parade, Wolf Eyes, AIDS Wolf; Deerhoof, Deer Tick, Deerhunter. Recently a trio of Canadian artists containing the word “City” have offered new releases.
City and Colour – iTunes Live: SXSW (EP)
After several reluctant rotations of this four-song EP, I realized that my leftover emotions from the histrionic, hackneyed, caterwauling opening track “O’ Sister” were coloring my opinion of the rest, so I deleted that song. I suggest you do the same. If you haven’t heard City and Colour (aka Dallas Green) at his worst, you’ll be better able to accept the slightly less histrionic and hackneyed remaining three songs. Even better, skip this entirely and listen to Green’s other project, Alexisonfire.
Imaginary Cities – Temporary Resident
This project from touring Weakerthan and generally hardcore dude Rusty Matyas and soul singer Marti Sarbit is the clear standout of this trilogy. The duo’s clear, melodic pop instrumentation has a certain lightness of being that is gently anchored by Sarbit’s smoky alto. There’s a lot of variation here: catchy “Hummingbird” sounds like someone peeled back the roof of a smoky blues club to reveal a summer blue sky; “Ride This Out” could be a civil war spiritual reimagined as a pop sing-along. Handclaps drive the gradually-escalating tempo towards an ecstatic state. But though Imaginary Cities skips across genres with aplomb, the sound remains rooted in the central soul vs. pop dynamic, carrying this driving contrast in each song’s heart.
We Are the City – High School (EP)
Since I saw them at Rifflandia last year, We Are the City have lost their original guitarist and replaced him with Forestry’s Blake Enemark. This change has allowed a sort of rebirth, paradoxically achieved by revisiting the past on this six-song concept EP. The band intended to revisit their high school years at a distance, and though it’s an interesting idea, the distance seems to be a little too much. The present-tense lyrics don’t match the serenity and self-reflection heard in the music; the uncertainty and every-moment-matters intensity that I remember from high school is rarely found. Concept set aside, though, the music is interesting, explorative and climatic. Enemark’s guitar work creates crashing waves of sound that dissipate into gentle ripples, and sometimes the songs almost disappear into whispers and background noise, leaving you rapt and waiting for resurgences that may or may not come.