Sometimes there are albums that you really want to like. You really do. You keep giving it a chance and say, “You know what, the second, third and fourth time this will probably be an awesome album.” Sometimes it is. But No Cities Left is not. You could say that this album is, to use a phrase that is thrown around constantly, “highly anticipated.” Rolling Stone said Montreal’s The Dears are one of the new bands to watch. They missed the mark on this one. The most accurate description of Murray A. Lightburn’s band is ‘drab.’ The stuff is boring. The Smiths heavily influence Lightburn, and the somewhat recent beatification of the Smiths and Morrissey could be one of the reasons for the Dears’ buzz. But the band ends up sounding like a rip-off of the aforementioned artists combined with a rip-off of “Mother”-era Pink Floyd. And neither of the imitations is close enough to sound good.
Lightburn, in addition to writing pretentious epics that fall on their face, describes the album in the liner notes as “Written and Directed by Murry A. Lightburn.” Lightburn needs some direction himself– he can’t decide what type of singer he should be. His low, laid-back voice is as dull as a Thanksgiving parade, and when he tries to scream he sounds like a 16-year-old at a screamo concert desperately trying to sing along; yelling doesn’t suit him. Sometimes he sings a bit higher, louder and with more intensity, but this sounds like it’s out of a Broadway show tune. His falsetto wavers, but is probably the most pleasing. The female vocalist, Natalia Yanchak, is just as dull.
The pretentious quality surfaces when you realize that the swirling music in each attempted epic is supported only by cliché lyrics that take themselves way too seriously. Lines such as “I then arrived 10 minutes early with no smokes and I was broke, with no smoke” (cue saxophone interlude with “la la la”s) and “It’s me. It’s you. It’s me. It’s you. It’s me. It’s you” don’t hold up against the music. The repetition of the lyrics just makes matters worse. “It won’t ever be what we want,” 10 times in a row (very slowly), is not poignant enough to carry itself through repetition. Neither is “Never destroy us” 9 times in a row. And the music isn’t interesting enough to pick up the slack.
However, the instrumental sections are probably the best parts on the album, especially on “Warm and Sunny Days.” No one can say The Dears don’t know how to play their instruments. The problem is that it doesn’t necessarily make for good music. Almost every song attempts to build to a crescendo (or crescendos), but the end result of the build-up is never satisfying. It’s more like tartar build-up. Or that film on your car windshield that keeps getting worse every time you try to smear it with your hand, but you keep smearing it anyway. Tartar + car film = No Cities Left.
The Ritualists – Painted People
The Ritualists play some determined, strong-willed music
After listening to Painted People by The Ritualists, I was very surprised to learn that this is their debut album. This band shows a maturity in their music that I would not expect from a first album and provides inspirational sounding tracks with ‘reach for the stars’ type of guitar riffs. I hear a modern version of U2 in The Ritualists, along with an influence of Radiohead. Their songs are full, wholehearted post-punk hooks with a lead singer that has a sizeable range.
“Rattles” opens the album, and it’s the type of song that shows their audience that they are here to stay. It has a great build-up of excitement and intensity. The band explains that this song is “A combination of dark, deep-pocketed verses juxtaposed with big, flashy choruses is a key element to tracks”.
“Ice Flower” and “Worthiest One” welcomes an electronic wave to the album and showcases just how impressive lead singer Christian Dryden’s range is. His ability to hit those high notes with such conviction puts my falsetto abilities to shame. “Worthiest One” brings this sort of nostalgic feeling- it’s a rock ballad with a floaty guitar riff.
“She’s The Sun” is a great follow-on from “Worthiest One” as it transfers the mood upwards and directs the music into more of a hypnotic vision, which conveys “the band’s inner Sixties Love Child”. “I’m With The Painted People” has a really relatable background to the song. Dryden felt a larger than life inspiration from people like David Bowie and Simon Le Bon, these artists felt like soulmates, which can be lonely at times. It wasn’t until he ventured out into the clubs of the lower east side of New York which helped him feel comfortable to express his creative vision freely. The song is all about finding like-minded people.
There are hooks galore and catchy choruses in pretty much every song. “With this record, I’ve specifically tried to be anthemic,” admits Dryden. “I’ve always loved going to shows, where immediately after the performance, and even on the ensuing days after, you just can’t help but remember and sing the songs you’ve just heard. It’s almost like a higher form of communication.” The Ritualists play some determined, strong-willed music and Painted People shows hints of variations with different genres explored throughout. They sound motivated and in return have produced motivating music for their listeners.
The Decline – Flash Gordon Ramsay Street
What The Decline get absolutely spot-on is their clinical, unrelenting brand of skate punk
It’s possible that since punk broke through to the mainstream in the mid to late ’90s, listeners outside of Australia think Frenzal Rhomb are the only band to have come from the lucky country. It’s true that during the rise of that Epitaph and Fat Wreck sound, Frenzal Rhomb became the namesake of the genre from Australia. However, Australian punks know that their history stretches long before the release of Survival of the Fattest. From the legendary sounds of The Saints to the rock n’ roll infused punk of Radio Birdman, Australia’s punk rock history is not only rich but very much precedes the genre’s mainstream explosion.
Frenzal Rhomb were another chapter in punk down under and for many, they opened a lot of doors. If not at the very least, proved that there were fertile grounds for new bands to emerge across the vast land. Western Australia’s The Decline formed in 2005 and quickly showed their talent for writing up-tempo melodicore that shred as much as it soared. From their 2010 debut, I’m Not Gonna Lie To You, it was clear that the band were equal parts snotty, urgent, funny, and melodic. Like the Frenzal Rhomb formula, they’ve got all of it in spades with a mean streak of Australianness that is both endearing and extremely relatable. Their latest album is no different.
From the title alone you can tell you’re in for a shedload of fun, and while it’s easy to think that Flash Gordon Ramsay Street is just goofy humor, it’s actually got a lot of pointed commentary too. From the animal-supportin’, veggie-lovin’, attack on meatlovers and meatheads (“Brovine”), to the real-estate market questioning “Smashed Avo”, there’s plenty of current talking points that The Decline run through. Sure, you also get vegan buffalo wing recipes (surprisingly, not the song titled “Bullet With Buffalo Wings”) and a love for The Legend of Zelda, but who says you can’t sing about Marxist theories while talking about your love for Nintendo?
What The Decline get absolutely spot-on is their clinical, unrelenting brand of skate punk; taking plenty of cues from the best of the NOFX / No Fun At All up-tempo, hardcore-derived brand of punk. The hooks on Flash Gordon Ramsey Street are as infectious as horny teens on spring break, highlighted by the endless harmonies on songs like the terrific “It Was Always You” and the call and response male-female vocal attack of “Verge Collection”. Brevity is also key, as the majority of the songs here never overstay their welcome with the longest clocking in at just 3:15 (the wistful closing of “Josh”).
Flash Gordon Ramsey Street is concise, to-the-point, and a furious medley of skate punk urgency that is relevant to young adult life as punks in Australia. Great production values to boot mean you can’t go wrong here.