Old City: Old City
Sometimes, in doing these weekly local music reviews, I discover just how wrong I can be.
Such is the case with this week's review of the first full-length release by Cincinnati's Old City. Essentially, it boils down to a classic case of 'don't judge a book (or an album) by its cover' - literally.
Looking at the cover of Old City, with its stark black and white woodcut look to it, I was reminded of the cover of Pure Predication's Dead Boy. By that association I was expecting something in a similarly heavy lo-fi vein. Plus, when I made my contribution to their kickstarter-like pre-order campaign, I was anticipating that the result would be something akin to a homemade DYI project - the kind where the sound quality can sometimes not be up-to-par with the songwriting or the performance.
Words can not capture how wrong I was in this instance.
When drummer Dave Cupp hand-delivered the CD to me, one of the first things that caught my attention was the numerous 'guest musicians' who performed on the album, including Nic Powers [The Sweep], Elle Crash [JetLab] and Steve Wethington [State Song]. I also quickly noted that the recording was not done in someone's basement or laundry room, but was actually recorded (by Wethington) at New Fidelity Studios and mastered by Mike Montgomery at Candyland. The 12-title album was recorded in two sessions, three months apart. 'Side A' represents the first session, done in December, 2013 and 'Side B' the second session completed in early March of this year.
So far, this album was already exceeding my expectations, the only thing left for me to do was to actually listen to the thing.
From the first note of "Hallo" I was transported back to 1991 when Tad's 8-Way Santa never left my tape deck. Wethington and Montgomery have managed to masterfully preserve the power and vitality of the music and present it with just the right balance of loudness and clarity. Cupp's drums pound your solar plexus and the bass, played by Robyn Roth (who also did the cover artwork) vibrates your whole self. Sammy McKee's guitar tone is so wonderful and so perfectly recorded that you can practically smell the ozone and feel the warmth of the tubes coming out of the back of the amp.
In songs like "Fletch (for the 4th time)" McKee's vocals remind me a lot of Thurston Moore [Sonic Youth] or Mark Arm [Mudhoney] with his droning off-key inflections. Sonically and lyrically, there is clear sense of positive apathy, much in the same vein that has sustained such bands as Dinosaur Jr. and The Melvins.
My favorite track on 'Side A' is "7,000" in which Roth leads the song in both vocals and bass. The musical and lyrical interplay between Roth and McKee on "7,000" is strongly reminiscent of Kim Deal and Frank Black [Pixies] and generates a sublime and gorgeous contrast to the other tracks from that session.
'Side B' opens with "Hymenia" a track with a such a lush and full sound and cryptic lyrics that it feels like something from Guided by Voices' Do the Collapse. But the high-point of 'Side B' comes in the form of "Reign" a track that the band has shared as a single and has become a sort-of anthem and a shorthand "this is what we sound like" business card for Old City.
I don't own a nightclub but, if I did, I would work to arrange a musical marriage between Old City and Day Camp. Like pairing good food with good wine, these two just feel that they are made or each other.
This is not the album I was expecting. I clearly underestimated this band and this recording. Old City surprised me and blew me away. If you are of an age and a mindset to appreciate the music of Sonic Youth, Pixies, Sebadoh, Guided by Voices or Mudhoney. You owe it to yourself to give Old City a listen.
Old City is currently available for download from their bandcamp page or get a physical copy at Shake It Records and Rock, Paper, Scissors in Cincinnati; or at Used Kids Records and Spoonful Records in Columbus, OH.