City Center City Center

[Type; 2009]

Styles: haunted-summer pop
Others: Panda Bear, Caribou, The Ruby Suns

After the limited release of several CD-Rs, cassettes, and 7-inches, this is City Center’s first proper full-length album. Fred Thomas, the architect of City Center, has been frequently updating the band’s blog with new and free MP3s for the past two years. A quick trip there will provide the hungry ear with well over 60 unreleased tracks, demos, and live recordings to chew on. Despite Thomas’ voracious creative urge, most ears — or at least mine — only pricked up with the 2009 release of the Grouper/City Center split 7-inch, which featured the track “This Is How We See In The Dark.” That title seems ironic, since the murky haze of synth-waves is nearly impenetrable, and the only light or revealed structure seems to be provided by the chain-clanging percussion of the ghosts attempting to navigate the night.

City Center is a conscious summer-pop album. As jejune as this might sound, it really does take us through a sun-scorched trip to the center of a city. “Killer Whale” begins with a murky tremolo that opens up to a blooming underwater-echoed guitar phrase and Thomas’ reverb-drenched vocals. A similar deep sea-like swirling sensation subsists throughout the course of the album. “Open/House” exemplifies the tropicalia aesthetic only long enough to be ripped in two by a healthy blast of ambient noise that erects a thick wall, thus revealing the dense urban-mood that interestingly accompanies City Center’s friendlier, beachier moments. “Life Was A Problem,” despite its possible message to not worry and be happy, sounds like a steel drum or a marimba being played backwards in a nightmare, realizing a strange claustrophobia for just over a minute. “Gladest” changes from a smooth sail with sand dollar bells guiding the way into a Fahrenheit Fair Enough-esque glitch attack conclusion.

The highlight of the album is “Bleed Blood,” which clearly shows City Center’s influences, sounding much like Feels might if it was recorded after Person Pitch. The track acquires an anthemic quality from the boardwalk-sounding 5-gallon bucket percussion and steadily intensifying bass line. Thomas’ vocal-potentiality is most evident here, as he manages to construct a sturdy melodic movement that connects perfectly with the groove of the totality. Around the three-minute mark, the track begins to deconstruct, slowly trailing off into what sounds like a train representing a transition into “Cloud Center” — a Lando Calrissian space-trance cool-out that ambiguously and calmly sits in the center of the album as spaceships zoom all around it. High Places’ Mary Pearson provides a minimal vocal contribution to the floating, sleepy “You Are A Force.” “Summer School,” another of the album’s standout tracks, returns us to the haunted-tropical spirit of the album. While Leah Paul’s flute breezes above Brian Groux’s vibe-roll, the electronics sinisterly move out into the open, heliocentrically, and devour the dreamy mood. “Young Diamond” holds one of the heavier, yet playful, moments of the album, allowing a thick feedback assault to develop and be quickly torn down by a call-and-respond guitar-as-ukulele phrase. As the album closes, the hex is left open, perhaps irreversibly strolling along the shoreline of the city.

The beached-out percussion loops and Bodhi-vibe that drifts coolly over City Center screams summer, but it is a vision of summer that has a darkness constantly looming over it. The album also screams Person Pitch, though it never can capture the originality and energy that made its predecessor so rich, and cannot completely individuate itself so as to avoid the comparison. While Panda Bear is clearly influenced by Brian Wilson’s understanding of vocal-complexity, City Center lacks a robust notion of harmony and melodic wizardry. Thomas’ vocals standout strongly on “Bleed Blood,” acting as a proper guide for the track, but the possibilities for critical-vocal-harmony are either restrained or overpowered for most of the album. As a result, many of the songs do not realize their total pop potential. But, as a debut full-length, City Center shows much promise and can rightly provide the soundtrack to a strange summer.

1. Killer Whale
2. Open/House
3. Life Was A Problem
4. Gladest
5. Bleed Blood
6. Cloud Center
7. You Are A Force
8. Summer School
9. Young Diamond
10. Unfinished Hex

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