[5 November 2007]
The genre of post-rock has often left the impression of being the alternative’s alternative. The audio equivalent of a Pollock or Rothko painting, it’s the kind of atypical experimentation that is simultaneously criticized for its esoteric nature, and admired for its outside-the-box approach to popular music. Emerging among the likes of such mini-orchestras as Explosions in the Sky, Mogwai, and Comets on Fire is the band Citay.
Though comprised of over a half dozen members Citay is primarily the resulted collaboration between former Piano Magic drummer Ezra Feinberg and Tim Green, best known for his work with the Fucking Champs. Appropriately based out San Francisco, the epicenter of the counter-culture movement (i.e. mass consumption of LSD), Citay present a sound layered in the roots of psychedelic rock and roll.
Utilizing a myriad of instrumentation—from the standard bass, percussion, and piano, to 12-string guitars, mandolins, synthesizers, flutes, violins—Little Kingdom, the follow-up to the band’s self-titled debut, is an atmospheric offering that draws heavily from the influences of Animals-era Pink Floyd and the acoustic experimentation of Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin. With a total of eight songs clocking in just over 44 minutes, this wistful collection engages its listener at a drifting pace. While not without a genuine sense of direction, there is a definite aimlessness to the arrangements.
Take for example, “First Fantasy”, the album’s opening track. Lushly arranged, the song is gravitated by the duel-lead guitars of Feinburg and Green. Like water swirling down a drain, its melody circles itself. As chiming bells, warbling synths, a choral ambience of voices sing about the passage of time (“Last week was like a year ago / Five years, just like yesterday”), the song eventually opens up into a bright, wandering jam. Harmonizing their guitars with great technical sync, Feinburg and Green capture the dazed warmth of the west coast, where everything eventually just starts to blend together under the sun.
This aspect of uniformity is particularly significant, because just as Little Kingdom‘s churning production succeeds in establishing a trippy identity and cohesive feeling of distortion, it unfortunately generates a relative sameness throughout the progression of the album. From the opening acoustic strums of the album’s title track to the meandering finger picking of “Moonburn”, each piece of acid-folk does little to separate itself from the whole.
A key, contributing factor to this unvarying outcome is the band’s reluctance to give what little lyrics it uses some discernable focus. Though the singing of words are certainly in play in about half the songs on the record, for the most part Little Kingdom is very much an instrumental work. This of course is a stylistic choice, and should not be held against the band. However, one would assume that when it came time to incorporate lyrics, they would have some semblance of importance or meaning within their given song. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Citay do nothing literary, but rather use the excuse to sing to create yet another instrument full of chambered reverb. Considering that there are two members whose sole job is to be a vocalist, it seems like a slighted use of their talent.
Regardless of such minor qualms, Citay and Little Kingdom do very little to instill aggravation in their listeners. They’re of a different kind of mojo, a kaleidoscopic venture that can be a great calm when the day inevitably explodes.