Robbers on High Street: Tree City

Kenneth Yu

Tree City consists of 13 tracks of tightly-wound, musically-literate passion from musicians who themselves are conscious of the awesomeness of their output.

Robbers on High Street

Tree City

Label: New Line
US Release Date: 2005-02-22
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon affiliate

Just last night, while driving alone on the busy streets of Melbourne, Robbers on High Street's debut LP Tree City was playing on the car stereo. Feeling just a tad lonely in the midst of the hustle and bustle surrounding me, albeit with the album keeping me company, I was pondering a critical conundrum -- if an indie band sounds like the indie bands that had went before it, do I as a reviewer, trace the influences back to the original sources of these indie bands' sound, or am I merely content to just namedrop these bands without delving too deep into the surface?

Let me explain -- Robbers on High Street sound a whole lot like other indie bands out there. There is a healthy dollop of fellow New Yorkers Interpol hiding somewhere beneath the sonic olla podrida, less- bombastic traces of the Arcade Fire, and even elements of Maroon 5 stripped of their Billboard Top 500 smugness. A can of worms is potentially opened when we in turn cite their respective influences, which includes luminaries like the Talking Heads, Joy Division, Radiohead, etc. It also doesn't help that they have incorporated the riffology of the Kinks and the Rolling Stones and the melodiousness of the Beatles somewhere into the combustible mix.

Perhaps Tree City is best enjoyed when it is stripped of the weight of its influences, and consumed as it is because, well, these fellas do rock with an attitude all their own.

The opener "Spanish Teeth" is a corker of a potential single, starting with the blaring of trumpets in prelude to an explosion of joyous dancability that may not be flamenco in music but in spirit. The song sets the tone for the Robbers on High Street template, with the infectious staccato downward guitar strokes that scream garage band greatness, a loud-soft dynamic mastery hardly seen outside the Pixies/Nirvana circle, and a frontman's voice that at once channels the weepy wisp of Win Butler and Chris Martin and Lynyrd Skynyrd filthy grizzly veteran rock 'n' roll band attitude.

Tree City consists of thirteen tracks of tightly-wound, musically-literate passion from musicians who themselves are conscious of the awesomeness of their output.

However, if the unenviable task of selecting highlights must be done, then these few do spring to mind. One of which is "Beneath the Trees", a slow doom-and-gloom piece that recalls the Americana murder ballads of yore, supplemented with more 21st Century instrumentation. "Love Underground" has Franz Ferdinand-like propulsing fuzzy guitars in the beginning but time warps into something nostalgically pop-tastic, a special item that may have come out of the Kinks' catalogue. Closer "Montifiore" is a worthy addition to those ironic/tragic "this-is-a-happy-day" songs, with the immersion of its brooding arrangements and desolate atmospherics making both the Lightning Seeds and Lou Reed proud.

Again, just last night, I was braving the drunken weekend clubbing crowds. Navigating the potentially deadly revelry with mah' trusty old Ford, Robbers on High Street have become my friends. Their thousand words of song have painted a picture for me to rest on, a portrait of urban ennui. Like my other similarly melancholic mates Interpol, Tree City is for the lonely among us. It is emo minus the snotfacedness, indie without the pretension -- darn good music that pierces your sorry existentialist soul from a darn good up-and-coming band who truly knows how.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.