City Light is a San Francisco based electronic duo consisting of singer/songwriter Matt Shaw and producer Nick Andre. What they create is a very modern sort of pop. The songs are catchy, with heartfelt vocals sung over dancey hip-hoppish beats. The overall effect reminds me of Boom Bip's 2011 record Zig Zaj, an album which i enjoyed quite a bit. Not to say that City Light sound exactly like Boom Bip, but rather that the spirit is the same. This music blends several very different stylistic elements in a generally upbeat atmosphere. It seems very modern to me, like this is the future of music with indie rock and hip-hop and laptoptronica all blurring together organically.
There are ten songs in a little over 32 minutes. Let's examine each.
The record kicks off with nice thumping drums, a clattering sound, and strummed guitar in Devil In The Dark. On the chorus, some keys are layered in. Paranoid Kid features an organ drone that pans back and forth over deep booming drums and some LCD Soundsystem-esque electro burbling. Shaw sings over this, and on the chorus he is joined by piano. This really sounds like something that LCD Soundsystem might have done -- it has that same infectious energy.
City Light bring in a guest vocalist on Blurry Vision, one Ann Yu, who apparently is in an act known as Silver Swans. Lu's sweet voice goes well with a tinkling guitar, a buzzing bass line, and chugging electro beats. This reminds me, slightly, of Lali Puna -- it has that same electro indie rock thing going on. I like how Lu accompanies the music. Bringing her in to guest was a good move on City Light's part.
Shaw is back singing on Sweet Death, here over a wavering organ drone and light drumming. And then, on the chorus, guitars and bass swell up as the drums speed up and the song is an epic indie rock tune. Very nice. They contract this song with the next track, the very hip-hop Memory Loss, a song built out of cut and pasted drum loops with some lovely guitarwork over top. I really like the way this song flows, and i think that the transition between it and the previous track is well done.
Synths burble on Rewind Replay Repeat as Shaw sings softly and understated. It is a different singing style for him, and something about it reminds me of Paul Simon -- maybe in the phrasing and the rhythm. This is the only time on this record i would make that comparison. But the beat here is great -- a huge rumbling synth tone over scattered drum loops. This song really swings.
And the next song rocks. Waste Away has crunchy guitars and quality drumming. Shaw's voice here is a hushed, strained whisper, and that voice and the overdriven guitars remind me of Dinosaur Jr.
The album's single is the next track, and you can get it for free on their label's SoundCloud. It starts off folksy, with an acoustic guitar over some droning organ. And then a slippery drum loop comes in, a funky hip-hop loop, slightly echoed and hi-hat heavy. And suddenly the sensitive indie ballad that the song started off as becomes a swaggering dance tune, bopping along. It is a nice effect, reminding me of that AmAnSet remix record from a few years back. Very fun.
Ms. Lu is back on Cross The Lines again in a mostly electronic song built of synths and drum loops. It sounds like what would happen if The Faint had a female vocalist, which is actually a pretty cool idea when you think about it. Lu turns in a great performance here, especially on the choruses where her voice is plaintive and high while the synths burble ecstatically behind her.
And then we wrap things up with You Know This Song. It starts with a strummed acoustic guitar and Shaw's plaintive voice lightly echoed. Towards the end it gets a little denser, with drums coming in and the guitar getting louder, but the song maintains a slight jangle-pop vibe, like something from early R.E.M., only with much cleaner vocals.
My only criticism is that, at times, Shaw's voice is a little over-produced. At times he can overpower the instrumentation behind him, and you can tell that he isn't even really belting it out.
I would also be interested in seeing the band break free of the rock song structure that they seem trapped in. That is, even though the music is mostly generated on a computer, they still follow a strict verse-chorus-verse setup. And the rhythms all seem pretty straightforward. In fact, for many of the drum loops, they probably could have just hired a drummer to play that in the studio. If you are going to bother using drum loops, make crazy rhythms with them. Electronic drum loops should be more like Four Tet and less like Jon Wurster! Just saying...
But those are pretty minor complaints. Overall, this album is fun and catchy and diverse.