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Wednesday, 4 November 2015 |
It's with a curious mix of trepidation and anticipation that I sit down for my first taste of Melbourne quartet City Calm Down's (CCD) inaugural long player 'In A Restless House'. I've seen them live twice now and each time they blew me away. Have they managed to bottle the magic on the studio album?
More than three years in gestation, it'd be an understatement for me to call it 'highly anticipated'. For CCD's currently burgeoning fan base, most of whom have already worn out their copies of the band's very satisfying 2012 EP ‘Movement', the first album proper could never have come quick enough.
CCD have just this week returned home from a triumphant national tour - selling out all but one date - and received rave reviews - proving unequivocally that the new material works beautifully in a live environment. With only a few days until the official album launch on the 6th November, the boys were equally knocked out this week to see their baby selected by triple j, as their Album Of The Week.
What follows is a track by track impression I got from my first listen.
The plaintively dark and insistent acoustic guitar on the opening track caught me a little by surprise as it sets quite a different tonal soundscape from anything we may have heard before from CCD. This instantly registers with me as a thoughtful, mature offering - we've obviously moved on a little from the sunny lilt of 'Movement’.
I'll follow you 'round again,
'til there's nothing but light,
And the figures arrest you 'til you feel nothing,
To these beggars in my shallow hole,
You'll be floating shrivelled prunes but nothing more.
I'd never look you in the eye while I'm blind,
I'll sleep right through the winter 'til the wind begins to turn,
You'd better turn my luck around,
And save me forever more."
Border On Control 4:25
A markedly motorik rhythm kicks off the second track 'Border on Control' and immediately the ghosts of German electronic pioneers NEU! and Harmonia are sequestered to the party.
Akin to NEU!'s signature anthem, 'Hallogallo', the track fairly saunters along and could almost be mistaken for it's spritely antipodean cousin. Sam's signature regal synth washes, and Jeremy’s driving bass lines are all over this and in Jack Bourke's vocals I’m hearing a sense of conviction I've not picked up on before. It's early days and we're only two tracks in... but I'm liking it… a lot.
The lyrics are equally intriguing:
"Falling out of view now,
I've more than understood,
Inching from the firelight,
Burning under wood,
Each time I feel like,
I'm in the middle,
Of losing it all,
It's a new day,
But I'm scared to leave the silence of my hole.
Fissures in the salt lake,
Are cracking under foot,
Wounds burn through the leather soles,
Stinging as they should,
I'm waiting 'til the moment's right,
To slip from all these things I know."
The first real standout moment of the record appears with the extended organ introduction on the third track 'Son'. Instantly my ears prick up at the gutsy and quite inspired choice and I immediately liken the vibe to some of the more earnest material off Arcade Fire's 'Neon Bible' - which is no bad thing. Bourke sings like a man on a mission - with a voice that is definitely going places:
You're in my way,
And I don't care,
That you’re familiar.
But I kid you not it's my disease,
I preferred my wants and deferred my needs,
Until I come around,
I'll stand still.
A fevered knot,
It turns my chest,
A restless mind,
A careless mess,
To follow on,
Is all but gone.
I'm caught in the headlights.
It's not my defence it's my disease.
A deer in the headlights.
It relieves my mind it won't be seen.
It's killing my waistline.
No I'll never leave you now,
Even though I'm suffering"
As Bourke reaches the heady crescendo of the song, and hits the word 'Son', his baritone effortlessly cascades down a fifteen note scale - Morrissey would be proud - this sounds fabulous - and immediately has me replaying it in a vain attempt to sing along... Sensational vocal control.
The production on this track is pure class. Lee Armstrong's drum parts are varied in texture and tone, sensitively applied and the guitar touches are just that... deftly placed for maximum effect. Definitely an inspired choice for a single.
Rabbit Run 4:09
What follows is possibly the real game changer for CCD. Within the first few bars of 'Rabbit Run' it's obvious why everyone who has heard the track has immediately given it the big thumbs up. All the hallmarks of a great indy single are there and if I close my eyes, I can almost hear an early Ian Curtis as Bourke intones over a very Peter Hook bass part. When the soaring synth line and drums chime in, the formula is complete, and we have a hybridisation of everything that is great about Joy Divison, Pulp and The National when they really hit their straps.
"Voices tell me I'm better off eating,
Eating all the violence I see without breathing,
To chew battered innocence not knowing what I've done.
Cold sweat holds the chill of the evening,
And floorboards creak under leaks in the ceiling,
I'm slipping up,
And almost gone
I'm losing sense of it all,
Won't you mind,
Turn the other way.
I'm losing sense of it all,
I won't deny it,
So rabbit run away."
"I guess I'd take,
A fool in the crowd,
A fool that needs me more than I'd realise,
A patient soul,
That deals with the shit,
The shit I throw in hope that some of it will stick."
Starting very slowly and quietly, underpinned with simple keyboard changes, and then building with each instrument joining the fray in turn, 'Wandering' is a dark horse of a track with a circular keyboard motif that Coldplay only wished they'd come up with. First class.
Your Fix 3:41
This is a gem of a track and currently stands as my favourite piece on the album – I put it down to the immediately snappy synth lines and insistent bass which harks back to the best of New Wave. Bourke sounds wonderfully purposeful and, at times, even raging on this... The addition of trumpet and saxophone refrains on the chorus heighten the track's sense of urgency.
"Confirm your ignorance,
By shouting wisdom that you've found,
And it seems like a joke.
But drowned out of view,
Before you fail.
If you're looking for forgiveness,
I don't care,
If you're begging for forgiveness,
Then I'm scared,"
Nowhere To Start 2:30
By comparison to the rest of the album, 'Nowhere to Start' is fairly short, and the only track to feature female backing vocals. This one was a real surprise to me sonically. The guitar lines shimmer across the shared vocals and here Bourke sounds so silky smooth he could almost pass for Jarvis Cocker from Pulp or Morten Harket from A-ha. When asked if there was one track that, when they were recording the album, really stood out as a watershed moment, Bourke suggested this could be a contender.
"All it takes is a shut of the eye,
Imagine how things could have been,
Nowhere to start,
Nowhere to start.
Fade in the night,
All the focus in the daylight,
It leaves your mind so occupied.
Don’t hope to change,
Light bulbs in the darkness,
If all you need is firelight.
Forget your dismay,
And visions of the ones you lost."
If There's A Light On 5:21
Lonely pensive organ and backwards guitar samples paint a curiously soothing soundscape which is then accompanied by a lilting guitar motif and bass that drives the track onward. Again, inspired use of Motorik time signature that moves back and forth from a canter to a gallop. This track is riveting when performed live and the changing time signatures make it a real ear worm that bears repeated listens.
"You shared your words,
In the lie of the century,
Born through other eyes.
There you were,
Driving miles through an open land,
Oh you don’t sympathise."
A fantastically frantic and, for Bourke at least, an exhausting track when performed live, the recorded version is no different. As the cacophony builds, it is Bourke's steadying vocal that provides the safety line upon which all the other members of CCD can play in such a freeform and unhinged manner. Recklessly rewarding.
"Moments in the salt,
Leave the mind relaxed,
But wounds they sting and irritate,
Healing at the cracks,
To purge your soul,
If I could share my peace of mind,
I’d shout my thoughts into a haze.
You’d leave me though."
Until I Get By 4:33
From the first few bars, it’s apparent this is yet another ripper as propulsive bass from Jeremy under spacey synths are joined by some suitably angry guitar breaks – Bourke sings with patent vitriol, a man stuck in a situation patiently waiting for the opportunity to extricate himself.
"Oh I knew this day would come,
Livid in the sun,
With no patience just to wait,
Until I get by,
It’s easier to fake,
Until I get by,
Until I get by."
In A Restless House 3:57
The title track that both closes out and bookends the album finds us in a similar mood to the opening track and sonically brings us full circle. Bourke accompanies a simple synth refrain with a wistful vocal. As the bass kicks in, he counterpoints his impressive baritone with plaintive falsetto lines reinforcing an element of vulnerability.
"Should I move my gaze,
I’d miss your smile,
In the moments you’re honest,
Honest to a fault.
Should I move the haze,
You’ll find yourself in the fear of aloneness,
In a restless house."
So... in conclusion, "In a Restless House" from City Calm Down is a damn fine debut – well worthy of your time and your ear. It benefits enormously from the unhurried creative approach afforded by it's three year gestation. We get intriguing lyrics that weave an emotional journey through a bevy of fantastic material, all impeccably produced. Not only is it a rewarding listen that ticks all the right boxes musically – sonically these boys have unwittingly created a new new wave that has me excited about music once again – and in my book, that’s what it’s ultimately all about.
I'm recommending it to all those who, like me, are always on the lookout for that one album that is a true grower and justly rewards the listener – and those who love to be in the know about unsung bands who are destined for great things. City Calm Down's debut, 'In a Restless House" is a fabulous start but is just the beginning...
8.5 Restless Stars / 10
The album is available on all formats together with City Calm Down merchandise at the band’s official website:
City Calm Down website:
And, as if all that wasn’t enough, this in news just to hand: the boys are throwing a launch party with free entry at Hugs and Kisses, this Friday 6th November at 8pm.
"To celebrate the release of our debut album 'In A Restless House' and say thank you to our fans for their support over the past 7 or so years, we're throwing a FREE party at Melbourne's Hugs & Kisses nightclub.
Legends Ara Koufax and Babicka will be joining us for this one off event.
This will be our last headline show for the year and entry is free!
Facebook event page:
City Calm Down are: Jack Bourke (vocals, guitar), Sam Mullaly (synths), Jeremy Sonnenberg (bass) and Lee Armstrong (drums)
For more information about City Calm Down:
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