Greatness has been long predicted for City Calm Down, following the release of their critically received second EP, Movements, in 2012. Their debut album, 2015’s In a Restless House, which was an extraordinary piece of brooding indie rock in The National mould, garnered the band acclaim in their native Australia, as the record peaked at 25 on the ARIA chart and received praise from Rolling Stone and Triple J. As the quartet of Jack Bourke, Sam Mullaly, Jeremy Sonnenberg, and Lee Armstrong enter their tenth year together, they have produced their most gripping set of songs to date on Echoes In Blue, which deserves to be mentioned alongside Trouble Will Find Me and Alligator.
The record is actually a wonderful concept album – or more accurately a single story of love, pain, grief, and redemption. Echoes in Blue commences in spectacular fashion with two heavyweight tracks. The emotive opener, “Joan, I’m Disappearing”, is City Calm Down’s triumph, representing the band at their very finest. The soaring synths, elegant rhythms, and chiming, post-punk guitar lines a la Joy Division create a heart-racing, chest-swelling soundscape that makes one want to race towards the darkness instead of away from it. Bourke’s rousing baritone trembles slightly, as he recounts the day someone dear (his mother, a lover) permanently left. It’s a day that continues to haunt him.
“I sit here for days in my air conditioned cage.
Given the year, it’s unlikely I’ll ever change.
Well you were right,
I fenced our love into awry.
I have no defence how we got there.”
“In This Modern Land”, which was the record’s first release, roars with the adrenaline of Slowdive mixed The National. Despite the exhilaration of the song, Bourke describes one person’s comprehension of this confusing events. About one man trying to make sense of the lies and the revelation of betrayal. As the horns and synths blare, the rhythms intensify, and the shoegaze guitars sear, frontman Jack Bourke’s voice roars with urgent desperation:
“In this modern land,
I cannot pretend to believe a word you say.
In this modern land,
I doubted everything since I cut myself away
But I, I saw the reflections of a conscious in collapse,
And a puzzle would WEIGH heavily.”
The effects linger long after, as revealed on the propulsive “Distraction/Losing Sleep”. The push-pull effect of Bourke’s lyrics – fighting the past while trying to convince he’s moving forward – work terrifically against the band’s slow-building, anthemic approach. Yet on the brooding and languid “Blame”, the puzzle ways heavily on Bourke, whose baritone is replaced by a Pornography-era Robert Smith whisper.
Following the short instrumental interlude, “April 18”, City Calm Down deliver another ferocious blow with “Decision Fatigue”, which is a mesmerizing piece of orchestral art that merges darkwave, post-punk, and art-rock. The song commences calmly before soaring to mesmerizing and breathtaking levels as all the instruments collide. This happens not once but twice, as the band envelops its wide, sonic arms around the listener. As the song simmers then boils over, Bourke tells the story through the eyes of the man (possibly his father) who was left waiting at the bedside for Joan to return.
“I lost my best years in the wait,
Always falling for your next excuse.
Still I’m sitting here my love,
Prepared enough to see all this through.
I’ve lost my energy to fight.
I stay here only for the view.”
A brief period of calm and serenity is unveiled in “Kingdom”. Seeped in memory, the song, however, is not one of reconciliation nor bliss but of painful discovery. “I didn’t want to open my eyes, afraid of what I might find”, Bourke sings with a grieving tone. Despite his hurt, he hollers, “I’m the one who wants your blood”, on the rapturous and euphoric “Blood”, which resembles the anthemic choruses and orchestral-rock of Gang of Youths. Pain gives way to reality and admittance on the trembling ballad, “I Heard Nothing From You”, which has an element of early 2000s U2.
After over 35 minutes of reflection, our protagonist is ready to move forward. The surging “Pride” is his anthem. Reminiscent of The National’s work on Trouble Will Find Me and High Violet, City Calm Down make the brooding spectacular. As the synths and sax escalate, Bourke’s voice gets more anxious, as he wants to escape the suffocation of the past and the memories it holds. Closure is achieved on “Echoes In Blue”, a gentle yet dramatic synth-wave number that reaches breathtaking levels. In the end, however, does our hero find redemption, renewal, or even relief? Whatever his ending may be, it is the start of a new life here or elsewhere. A life bereft of the pain that was once experienced.
For City Calm Down, however, their music lives are just beginning in they enter their second decade as a band. Movements was just a stepping stone and In a Restless House put them on the radar. With Echoes In Blue, they’ve released a monster album that startles from its brooding and dark brilliance to its soul-shaking storyline. It’s a record that reveals a band just starting to reach the cusp of its talents and rightfully earning its place as one of Australia’s great bands. As one of the world’s great indie-rock bands, period.
Echoes In Blue is out now via I OH YOU. City Calm Down’s global tour commences in May, starting in Europe and includes a performance at The Great Escape Festival. They’ll hit Australia and New Zealand in June and July. Dates and information are available here.
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