Imaginary Cities are the product of happenstance. Rusty Matyas faintly formed the idea of starting a band with Marti Sarbit after hearing her sing with a Motown cover band (while Matyas mixed). Matyas, after years of touring with The Weakerthans, honed in on her ability immediately and knew he had to showcase it somehow. Fast-forward to the end of 2011 and Matyas’ and Sarbit’s band Imaginary Cities is on countless year-end lists in Canada in addition to being in the long-list of candidates for Canada’s prestigious Polaris Prize. Matyas’ intuition about Sarbit was paying off tenfold. Now, finally, Votiv is giving Temporary Resident a proper US release. It lives up to the hype.
Temporary Resident begins brilliantly with the soulful “Say You”, which continuously builds momentum after starting with a restrained bluesy introduction. It doesn’t take long for Sarbit to let loose vocally, and when she does, it’s only a small hint at what’s to come. When “Say You” eventually erupts into its final chorus, it’s a blistering moment of triumph bolstered by Matyas’ guitar work. There are bits of soul, gospel, blues, motown, electro, rock, and pop that combine to form something that feels both original and familiar. That feeling of accessible freshness continues on “Hummingbird” and throughout the rest of Temporary Resident, never once wavering. “Hummingbird” itself finds a perfect balance between an acoustic guitar, a fuzzed out bass, and a minimal piano arrangement. Matyas’ bright guitar work once again kicks in at the chorus and elevates the atmosphere a notch.
Then “Calm Before the Storm” hits like a miniature hurricane of stylistic genre defiance. There are small bits of nearly every major genre woven together into an utterly beguiling whole. The song itself is an insidious piano-driven slow-burner that stays with you. “Don’t Cry” kicks the pace and tempo up several levels and almost sounds vicious after “Calm Before the Storm”, which is a brilliant bit of sequencing. It continues Temporary Resident‘s ridiculously strong streak and suggests that Imaginary Cities are more fully-formed than any band has a right to be on a debut LP. “Purple Heart” is where Temporary Resident falters a little. Despite being a lovely song, it’s a little too over-produced and derails the record’s pacing.
Luckily, Imaginary Cities recover quickly—and strongly—with album highlight “Ride This Out”. It’s a fascinating song with a gradually sped up tempo and Temporary Resident‘s catchiest melody. It also boasts some seriously impressive basslines. If there’s one song I can pin-point as to just exactly how (and how well) Imaginary Cities transcend the indie-pop genre they’re likely to be tagged with, it’s “Ride This Out”. Immediately after that comes another highlight in the form of “Where’d All the Living Go?”, which effectively showcases the bands lyrical capabilities. Opening with the heartbreaking line “You were asking me in a dream-like state, you were asking ‘why’d we have to separate?’” serves as ample evidence of how gifted the songwriting team of Matyas and Sarbit is. “Where’d All the Living Go?” coasts along with memorable melodies and minimal musical arrangements, which only heightens the heartbreak.
The title track is the fiercest of the collection and holds no punches. It’s the most guitar-heavy, the most immediate, and one of the most conventional. It’s also one of the best. There’s a certain sense I get listening to “Temporary Resident” that it’s one of the band’s most truly collaborative efforts, and Matyas allows himself more room to shine and it works wonderfully. Unfortunately, the next track proves to be another stumbling block before the band lands on the absolutely brilliant arrangements in “Cherry Blossom Tree”, in which a brass section makes a very memorable appearance. In the brass section arrangement alone, the band creates something near-magical. They also have the smarts to carry that section over to the majestic and defiant “That’s Where It’s At, Sam”, the record’s last grandiose highlight. It’s an absolute stunner.
Temporary Resident closes itself out in curious fashion. First is a piano-heavy ballad re-working of the title track, which would’ve made much more sense as the last track. It does highlight the fact that “Temporary Resident” is an extremely strong song, but in this case, it feels unnecessary and extremely out of place. What Temporary Resident actually closes with, “Mexico”, is a foreboding ambient piece that ends up ultimately feeling tacked on, thanks in part to the sequencing of “Temporary Resident (Piano Version)”, which is unfortunate because it’s a lovely little song that feels like an appropriate epilogue. Ultimately, Temporary Resident feels slightly too long and could have stood to lose a few songs. If it had, Temporary Resident could have been considered a very strong candidate for record of the year. As it stands, this is a very promising debut from a new band worth getting excited about. They should have bigger and better things to come.