Violent (Hidden Pony)
Violent marks something of a return for We Are the City. The band never broke up, but guitarist David Menzel quit in the summer of 2010. He has since rejoined and this new album, which comes out on Tuesday (June 4) is the trio’s first recording to feature him since its 2009 debut, In a Quiet World. (Interim replacement Blake Enemark played on the 2011 High School EP.)
This is a remarkably assured effort. Its crystal-clear sound owes much to the Zolas’ Tom Dobrzanski, whose CV includes equally impressive records by his own band and Said the Whale. Mind you, if those acts traffic in relatively straightforward indie pop—relatively being the key word—We Are the City does something else entirely. The band, which also includes singer-keyboardist Cayne McKenzie and drummer Andrew Huculiak, has always balanced pop songcraft and unabashed prog-rock leanings. It’s clear right off the top that, in making Violent, We Are the City’s intention was to push itself as far as possible in both directions at once. “Bottom of the Lake” kicks things off with hammering math-rock drums topped with a spiralling marimba figure and later joined by a layer of grinding shoegaze guitar. McKenzie’s vocal melody, however, provides the song with a focal point that is immediately accessible, softening the song’s rougher edges.
We Are the City never really sounded like any other local act in the past, and that’s even more true with this latest batch of compositions. In fact, the band sounds downright Scandinavian. The rising-tide keyboard crescendoes of “Legs Give Out” could have been lifted from an A-side by Swedish dreamtronica duo I Break Horses, while the jagged riff with which “King David” announces its arrival sounds like something Danish prog-poppers Mew might have written. Elsewhere, “Baptism” builds up into something approaching the cathedral-in-the-clouds grandeur of Sigur Rós.
In fairness, We Are the City doesn’t actually sound like any of them, either, but it’s a safe bet that if you have anything by the above-named artists in your collection, Violent is going to make you very, very happy.