We really didn’t need any more proof that new wave or post-punk can originate in the unlikeliest of places. While most of it came from England, people weren’t surprised to find it burgeoning in the glitz of Las Vegas and the hubbub of New York. But bands like VHS or Beta have proved that places in the heartland South like Louisville, Kentucky can also be a hotbed of keyboard driven new wave. And why is it appropriate to write about all of these places? Because the latest band on the block is called Cities, that’s why. They come from an unlikely place as well, the onetime Petri dish of independent music, Chapel Hill, North Carolina. These college students have ditched the keyboards, but their music is so mired in that style, that you almost don’t realize it at first.
After listening to Cities’ self-titled debut, I would guess that the one album that is never deleted from the collective iPod is Radiohead’s The Bends. Josh Nowlan and Robbie Mackey’s weaving guitar tracks are at once recall both that band and the overlapping tracks the Edge has produced over the years. Nowlan’s voice is pure Yorke when he goes falsetto. It’s too bad that their songs aren’t nearly as memorable. All of the members play their instruments well and the whole production is extremely polished and professional, yet the songs leave your consciousness as soon as they stop playing. Songs like “OOC” have dramatic energy, but without intelligible lyrics and slight differences between verse and chorus drones, it just becomes background music.
“Cons, Thieves & Murderers” combines the frenetic energy of Modest Mouse with a Foo Fighters working class drive which leads into “Lounge Act,” an Ok Computer knock off without the interesting composition. If nothing else, the absence of the usually ever-present synthesizer in bands of this ilk is at least refreshing. Cities brings things back to basics with its two guitar, one bass and one drum format, and they up the complexity with their layered compositions such as the droning and creepy “Lancer.” And yet it’s hard not to imagine that Cities will be just another blip on the indie rock radar, awaiting an eventual bogie takedown by a band that is slicker, sharper and more memorable.
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