City States – Geography Review

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City States are a Chicago art rock band consisting of Joel Ebner, Mike Burmester and Steve Lund. Despite forming in 2008, this is their official debut album. In that time Joel has had a few set backs and side tracks, but in that time has also released a 2011 EP titled Resolution including several singles and covers along with supporting acts like Au Revoir Simone. Another defining factor of Geography and it’s coming to fruition was the sudden death of his father half way through his recording of the LP and therefore many of the lyrical themes of the album deal with the associated themes of loss, grief and acceptance. The album was mixed by John McEntire of Tortoise and the album itself has drawn comparisons to Arcade Fire’s debut and Wild Beasts as well as being inspired by them, Brian Eno, The Antlers. Not a bad list and a lot to live up to.

‘False Start’ cautiously nudges and rotates synth chords and a delicate drum rhythm. This is intertwined with strikes of the piano, that fade back into the carefully crafted collages of electronic sounds. Joel’s fleecy and calm vocal rounds of the edges of the track even more than the instrumentals had done and makes it wonderfully obtrusive and immersive as you become lost up in the flashing and whirring sounds of an easily forlorn and distant track. ‘Uncharted Waters’ has a similar set up with the washed out beat and brushing percussion that a broken up with strikes of the piano. Wiry synths carry the song’s progression through to the instrumentals as the electronic percussion transforms seamlessly to more traditional forms. The flow of the vocals allow them to blend in with the instrumentals well too. ‘Endless Sunlight’ whirrs into action with the droning synths pulling the song to a start and emerging as it’s hook. These droning sounds are given urgency with the snappy percussion and are offset by more siren-like electronica, high wired guitar solo’s with Joel’s slightly distorted and distant vocal acting as the middle ground.

‘Willing’ and it’s broken down structure, forged by the strung out beats; has it’s space filled with rapidly fluctuating and flashing synths and these are glazed over with a more electronically charged and hazy modulated sound. This space between the strung out beats allow for Joel’s vocal to take an even clearer focus on the thoughtful and personal lyrics within the song. ‘There Was a Time’ combines a gently oscillating riff and natural percussion with wiry electronic sounds that shoot and jolt through to the heart of the track, Along  with this the vocals again act as a middle ground between the differing sounds and draw on more focus, especially when vocal harmonies are brought in. ‘To Remember’ remain simply structured with wondering electronic bursts tied down with a lapping acoustic riff. The lyrics for this track take inspiration from the eulogy Joel gave at his fathers memorial service. Other tracks such as ‘State of the Union’ retain that simplicity with regards to a modern piano ballad. The album as a whole is simple, clean cut and is evocative of a fresh and modern pop sound, yet delivered with the same sincerity of old and that is what ultimately makes it such an intimate and personally engaging album.

City States – Geography = 7/10

 

 

 

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