04 March 2008

A Secret Knock

Here's an older review I wrote that never saw print. Citified are an amazing band from Greensboro, NC. They've got a new CD/EP, "The Meeting After the Meeting," out March 25 on Eskimo Kiss Records. Pre-order it now at the record label's site and pick up their first self-titled album while you're at it.

Citified – S/T
Eskimo Kiss Records, 2005
Capturing the sound of distance and disparity isn’t an easy task, especially when it comes to music. A few artists have managed to do so accurately within the last decade or so, but those tend to be the ones that bounce through our heads after we’ve fallen asleep. Most recently, Sun Kil Moon perfected the sound of distance (something The Red House Painters had been trying to do for years) with their sprawling-yet-intimate “Ghosts of the Great Highway.” Before that, there were about a dozen or so bands with the ability to convey intimacy through songwriting and music combined. I believe it’s safe to say that R.E.M.’s “Murmur” claims that stake without much competition.
Taking their lessons from these great bands, Greensboro, North Carolina’s Citified has made a convincing case to be placed among the ranks with their self-titled album. Filled with evocative vocals and hollowed out guitar sounds, Citified has created an album that could pass as the soundtrack to both Christmas and summer—a quality that makes it listenable at all stages of the day, pre-dawn to post-midnight.
There’s enough reverb here to satisfy your midnight loneliness, and enough punch to keep you in steady motion while walking. But the strength of Citified lies in the functionality of the album as a whole. Coming in just under 19 minutes, there’s no room for filler, there’s just a short trip of an album that will get you wherever you need to be in a day’s time—twice.
While I can imagine other listeners being put off by the relatively short nature of the record, the more you listen to it, the more you realize how much the length benefits the subject matter. Distance—a key theme to the record as evidenced through titles (“Overseas,” “Going Places,” and “Stopping the Clock”)—is best conveyed in repeated short bursts like day trips or stop lights, because that’s when it’s most apparent to our minds and ears. As such, multiple listens are not only recommended, but required, because what Citified has managed to do is eliminate all of the excess of rock/indie rock and focus in on the experience and continuity of listening—a trait that somehow goes overlooked in most bloated, 13-14 song, albums.
Chris Jackson’s vocals and mysterious lyrics keep the songs afloat, and when he steps away from the mic, a single, jangly guitar line—often just two or three notes—picks up right where he left off. For example, “Secret Knock” is lifted to a whole new level by eventual fade of Jackson’s vocals and lyrics, and a breakdown that culminates in a picked acoustic guitar and a tenor cry. “Going Places” has the best accentuated two note guitar lick I’ve heard in a long time, not to mention the most haunting melody of all the songs on the album.
Citified’s album cover shows an extreme close-up of buildings and skyscrapers in an exaggerated, silver-age comic book color format. It reminds me of Seurat’s pointillism, and the theory that accompanies it: up close the picture appears blurred and spotted, but the farther one moves away from it, the clearer the picture becomes.
By placing distance into their music, but remembering that the whole is greater than the individual parts, Citified have accomplished with incredible accuracy what many artists fail to do: create a solid album that is both evocative and indicative of the landscapes within the listener’s own mind.

From the upcoming EP, "The Meeting After the Meeting:"
Citified - Read Like a Number - mp3

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