Chicago's All City Affairs drops more knowledge about modern life and love via inspired mash-up collages of rock, pop, funk, and soul.
“Everybody’s a critic and you can get fucked if you ask me,” All City Affairs helmsman Peter Andreadis sweetly pronounces on the title track of Identity Theft, and if it seems like a prickly and defensive warning to, ahem, music scribes among others, it’s something else entirely in context. The song’s signature violin loop drops out of the mix, highlighting just the beat, bass, a dash of organ, and the album’s most pointed summation. Andreadis has always displayed a deft hand at social commentary with All City Affairs, notable particularly on 2006’s wonderful Bees. On Identity Theft, it’s a bit more direct and edgier, owing to the fact that time speeds up as we get older, memories become more important, and answers don’t get any easier.
If you haven’t yet heard All City Affairs, describing their sound is a considerable challenge. A jack-of-many-trades, Andreadis’s hobbies include recording a blog’s worth of diverse cover songs (from Harry Nilsson to Joanna Newsom to Kiss to George Michael) and mashing up Jay-Z and Radiohead. And with a few exceptions, All City Affairs is performed and recorded entirely as a solo venture, incorporating live and digital instrumentation in ways that befit his eclectic influences. But that doesn’t make Identity Theft a sprawling mess or an identity theft of its own. It’s more cohesive as an album than its predecessor, and it brings to the forefront Andreadis’s personal musical point of view.
The twin pillars of All City Affairs’ music are dance-floor beats and Andreadis’s clear, straightforward tenor, which enunciates with choirboy precision and avoids irony and weariness at all costs, plunging headlong into confessional-sounding lines like “I was introduced to love and sex at the same time / How was I to know it wasn’t meant to be?” without fear of sounding unfashionably earnest. On that track, “The End of Loneliness”, a somber, circular guitar figure is matched with a spry, hand clap-laden percussion track, balancing the song’s heavy tone, as does the colloquial “You were so fucking hot and my best friend”. The album’s first song, “Flashback to When We Both Were Young”, incorporates pulsing synths and a bass-heavy groove, and like “Loneliness”, it plumbs nostalgia and star-crossed love.
But the nerve center of Identity Theft still resides in the lyric that begins this review. Radiating outward from that pithy jab, the idea isn’t that people shouldn’t have opinions, but that the massive squall of media information that surrounds us doesn’t define our lives. “I don’t need no magazine to tell me / Don’t need no website driving their points home to me”, Andreadis sings, simple enough statements that carry more gravitas when paired with the more personal sentiments expressed in “Different When We’re Alone” or “Flashback”. It’s not consumer demographics and online ratings polls that make up our identities, but our memories and relationships, an idea explored in earlier All City cuts like “How To Sell a Product” and “Man of Modern Times”, in a slightly different way here.
The buzzy, thumping “One More Shot” comes closest to Bees' cheeky take on city life and lifestyles: “The neighbors are turning in / While me and mine are going out / …I’m on a mission to get screwed up / And talk some shit / And go to sleep”. Glassy vibes plink in the background behind and infectious guitar hook and falsetto backing vocals, encapsulating the All City Affairs ethos that social commentary and even soul-searching personal reflection can still be fun and fresh, and make you want to shake your booty. The band name is even checked in the chorus of the spry “Little Pills”: “Get those demons off my back little pills / Make my prescription out to ‘All City Affairs’”. If the songs themselves have power to purge worries and troubles, it’s through their bizarre yet natural-sounding genre manipulations, and Andreadis’s trustable voice, which finds solace in the joy of pop music past and present, and lays it all out there for like-minded music junkies.