Artist: This City Awaits
Album: …said the liar
Label: Red Cord Records
Release Date: 04.23.13
Reviewer: Lee Brown
- This Darkness
- Hold Still
- Yet There is Life
- Dead and Gone
- White Ambulance
- Cardiac Arrest
- Farther Away
This City Awaits is an anomaly on their record label. While the typical Red Cord Records band is determinedly focused on making the heaviest music possible, TCA, along with Southbound Fearing, are unapologetically rock and roll. Though TCA is quite a bit heavier than Southbound Fearing, even they describe themselves as a simple, straightforward three-piece rock band.
Having released Code Red: Urgency back in 2011, This City Awaits is back with …said the lair. In my preparation for the review of this album, I was able to sit down with This City Awaits (see below) and discuss the album as a whole and the meanings behind several of the songs. We also talked a little about the style of the album, and some influences that helped shape the final product. On my first listen to the album, I was overwhelmingly struck by some perceived similarities to Kutless in the vocals, arrangement, and certain choices made across the album. Though they are not a perfect match, Phillip’s vocals do have the ability to stray rather close to Jon Micah Sumrall’s signature sound.
As I listened through a few times, however, I noticed other elements coming into play. At times, those being the heavier moments on the album, the vocals and stylings stray closer to Emery territory. But with the many layers Phillip is able to incorporate (most notably the falsetto on “Dead and Gone”), the album doesn’t feel a slave to these two comparisons.
In discussing the album with the band, Phillip made note of the fact that he had, in fact, been listening to quite a bit of Emery while preparing the album. So, the comparison has some weight to it. He also noted that the title …said the lair was directly influenced by his deep and abiding love for the show Psych. The name of the album actually came from a line of dialogue from that show.
The title of the album also serves to help set a framework for the concept behind the album, as well. Similar to FM Static before them, This City Awaits has written an album based around the concept of someone writing a multi-faceted letter. As such, the first track, “Nathan,” becomes the address line and “Salutation” becomes the closing thoughts and sign off.
“Nathan” serves as a powerful way to begin the album with a bang. “Nathan” is one of the strongest songs on the album and it immediately brings the listener in musically with aggressive chords and lyrics that perfectly start the concept in motion. “Nathan” is a track that also exemplifies the Emery influence found as it moves nicely between the clean (Kutless-esque) vocals into some well positioned screams. To get a good feel for what the album has to offer, check out the official video for “Nathan”:
Perhaps the most catchy track on the album (even in the interview I had the chorus stuck in my head the entire time), “This Darkness” is another strong track that serves to prove the power this album has. “This Darkness” was written by pulling inspiration from the Paranormal Activity movies and questioning whether or not those type of films can be healthy for a discerning Christian to view. Musically, “This Darkness” is another great example of just what this band is capable of, and I personally defy you to listen to it without getting the chorus stuck in your head for the rest of the day.
“Hold Still” begins with a very well done whisper into screaming moment. As with the previous tracks, “Hold Still” is a nice piece of rock with just a flavoring of metalcore thrown in for good measure. In terms of the message, this track furthers the letter writing concept by seeking to confront someone who has failed the one putting pen to paper. Yet, the tone of the song is also very introspective as the writer confronts his own demons along the way.
“Yet There is Life” breaks the more aggressive pace of the album and brings in a pop-rock flare. Of all the songs on the album, this one most directly reminds me of the style and manner in which Kutless shapes their songs. “Yet There is Life,” as the title suggests, is a quest for hope in the midst of the betrayal alluded to in previous songs. It is something of an anthem combined with a moment of showing an oppressor that their blows have not stopped the hope, determination, and resolve in the writer’s heart.
“Dead and Gone” is by far my favorite track. It’s not the heaviest track, in fact, aside from the closing track, it is probably the lightest fare the album has to offer, but it is certainly the most unique. There is just something infectious and addictive in the falsetto used throughout this song. In our conversation, Phillip mentioned that, though they had previously done a lot more falsetto on their last record, the producer wanted to use it sparingly on this record to make its use more impactful. It worked in spades, as far as I’m concerned.
If I have one criticism, however, it’s the song’s position on the album. Phillip himself even noted how well the acoustic fade used in the ending fits perfectly into the closing track. While I love the song’s placement for pacing on the album, I think this would have been a great track to segue into the entirely acoustic “Salutation.” Overall, this doesn’t hinder the album much, especially with how infectious the song is by itself.
Another standout on the album is “White Ambulance.” Be sure to check out the video below (which I’m embedding in the review for convenience) to hear the band’s heart behind this song. In spite of my argument about the placement of “Dead and Gone,” above, the lead in to “White Ambulance” still connects well with its predecessor, while moving the tempo and tone of the album back toward a more moderately-hard rock pace.
“Focus” seems to be the point in the “letter” where the tone shifts to seeking God and looking for redemption. In one view, it could be God singing over the distraught and broken letter writer. Musically, it has some solid guitars and drums that create a nice even pace throughout.
“Cardiac Arrest” and “Farther Away” serve as the runways that lead to the “Salutation” of the letter. As with previous tracks, “Cardiac Arrest” brings an Emery feel set to a nice straightforward rock tempo. Overall, however, this track didn’t draw me in as much as others and I caught myself wandering off a bit during it. Luckily, “Farther Away” quickly worked to restore my focus. The latter track serves as an up-tempo (and even nicely heavy) moment of clarity in seeking God, yet acknowledging the chaos between the writer and God (or the writer and the object of his letter).
“Salutation,” as mentioned before, is a nice little acoustic “goodbye.” By nature of the concept in this album, this song is literally both the conclusion of the album and the “letter.” As such, it does bring closure to the themes presented throughout the album and wraps up the story that crescendos through the record.
Overall: This City Awaits take cues from bands like Kutless and Emery while still crafting a sound all their own. Several tracks off this album could do rather well as singles, though the album as a whole is a cohesive concept. Tracks such as “Nathan,” “White Ambulance,” “This Darkness,” and “Dead and Gone” are highlights that show just how on point TCA is. Because of their strength, the latter half of the album doesn’t quite stack up as well by comparison. But, this is not to say that there are any “poor” songs to be found, either. If you’re questioning whether or not to give this album a shot, the answer is definitely. There is plenty going for this album to deserve checking it out.
RIYL: Emery, Kutless, Southbound Fearing