Center of the City Lights
Writing this recommendation has been slow coming for me. First of all, I absolutely love this debut album from this Austin, TX four-piece. I’ve wanted to share this for several weeks now, but every time I sit down to write something, I get lost while listening and get nothing done. The good part for me is that I keep hearing these incredible songs, and every time I listen, I come away with a new favorite song.
Shifting Sounds Records is sure building an impressive roster with releases like this one, Honeyrude’s incredible debut in 2017, and the gritty Magnet School. Texas has become a hotbed for dream pop with an aggressive edge. Much like Honeyrude, this debut feels and sounds like the work of seasoned veterans at the height of their powers. In addition, both bands portray some of the most impressive and expressive soaring guitar work I’ve heard since I first heard the Chameleons back in the 80s, or maybe Chrome era Catherine Wheel. Guitarists Ken Hatton and Paula J. Smith are on fire here. Each song is highlighted by absolutely scorching hot leads that lead to descriptions such as: stratospheric and captivating, as well as intricate cascading picking that evokes images of the shimmering falling embers from a colorful explosive firework high in the sky. Meanwhile Smith’s lyrics are thought-provoking and her lead vocals are unique and unassumingly alluring. I do not mean “unique” in a takes some getting used to sort of way, but in a haven’t heard a voice like hers before sort of way. This even truer when bassist Stephen Thurman lends his vocals seamlessly to hers, creating an intriguing melding that is wholly its own sound.
The LP kicks off with the slow burning “Pulse,” which is one of those particular majestic songs that would shine both as the perfect introductory song or the big dramatic closing finale. In this case, as the intro, it does an incredible job at setting an intense mood and to foreshadow the amazing journey we’re about to embark. Next up are the two pre-LP singles: the remarkably addictive bitter indictment of “Lost You to L.A,” which contains some serious moments of cranking revelation spurred on by the propelling rhythm section of Thurman and drummer Johnny Wilkins, and then there’s the redemptive “Last Crash Landing,” containing a guitar passage in the chorus that I’ve found myself humming eternally since I put this record on the turntable for the first time. “Marching Song” concludes side one with a slow intro that comes on like the sun creeping its way over the horizon before building increasing tension to an explosive conclusion.
The second side begins with the heartbreaking epic “Green Trees,” before melding into the mid-tempo beauty of “Emergency,” which evokes the effortless gliding principles of prime Abecedarians. “Put on Your Face” brings some up-tempo fire to side two with an elevating chorus. The album closes this collection with the brilliant “Slowly but Surely,” and it’s smooth comforting electric warmth.
Luckily, the digital version of Center of the City Lights has two additional songs! These are no throwaways. In fact, I can’t get enough of the ‘what’s the matters’ of the verses “Get Comfortable,” as well as the instrumental grind of its chorus. The second album finale, the melancholy “Spirit Guides,” is another spectacular highlight with a lot of great lines like “kingdom come is a moving target.” This definitely one of the best albums I’ve heard all year. Please consider discovering this great new band!
Silver Bars "Lost You to L.A."