[9 May 2011]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
When Canadian indie-prog band We Are the City started playing songs in a live setting that would wind up on their new six-song EP, High School, the group took the unusual approach of playing shows and parties with their faces hidden by white t-shirts to conceal their identities. The songs were supposed to be a fictionalized side-project for the group, complete with its own characters and story lines, so We Are the City felt that they had to take N. Senada’s theory of obscurity to new levels just to protect their identity. Despite their odd behavior, We Are the City don’t have much to be ashamed or embarrassed about on High School. It’s an ambitious statement that pushes the boundaries of cookie-cutter indie rock. However, experimentation sometimes gets in the way of the grandiose majesty at which these songs aim, and it sometimes gets the better of the trio.
The album’s best track and lead single “Happy New Year” has a kind of afrobeat, Vampire Weekend vibe to it. It’s an ear worm of a tune that rocks out with fist-pumping infectiousness. It helps that it is the album’s most straightforward rock song. Elsewhere, though, We Are the City try to come off as a latter-day version of the Rheostatics. “That’s It, That’s All” stop-starts at awkward moments, killing some of the track’s momentum through sheer herky-jerkiness. Meanwhile, the final song, “An Angel in White”, has a rousing chorus and moments of pop grandeur distilled into striking piano lines—but then it goes awry at the three minute mark, running on for another three and a half unnecessary minutes of gentle tinkering and plucked guitar which is meant to be ambience but in fact smacks of empty padding. In a nutshell, with the High School EP, the guys in We Are the City are trying too hard to be the weird outcast who roams a secondary school’s halls, waiting to get beat up. It’s too bad, because We Are the City has some strikingly beautiful melodies here and there. The album has a consistent flow as one song bleeds into another, and they clearly have some solid hooks to play. However, the whole project teeters on the brink because of the band’s unwillingness to cater to convention.