Born of the bedroom recordings of Saturday Looks Good to Me and His Name Is Alive member Fred Thomas, City Center’s primary introduction to listeners came in the form of a self-titled 2009 album on UK ambient label Type. While ostensibly a pop album, City Center’s debut nonetheless existed in a decidedly more ambient and arty realm, with Thomas creating song formations out of lo-fi loops a la Panda Bear, largely moving away from the more classic pop sounds that marked his work in other bands. A sample of artistic breakthrough in chrysalis, the album wasn’t quite the show-stopper it could have been, but certainly showed promise, its ethereal songs suggesting something greater to come.
Now a duo comprising Thomas and fellow SLGTM member Ryan Howard, City Center have signed with K Records and expanded their scope on second album Redeemer. Still awash in dreamy effects and warm, cozy aesthetics, Redeemer is a greater push toward pronounced hooks and memorable melodies. This isn’t experimentation in pop so much as pop with occasional experimentation. Thomas and Howard have brought with them a group of ten songs that retain the debut’s sense of textural playfulness, but imbue them with a more direct, accessible quality.
Opening with the sound of flowing water, the outstanding “Puppers” begins the album with a gentle, shoegazer-style progression of guitar and effects, slowly blooming into a breathtaking anthem of blissful sonic immersion. “Obvious” finds the duo taking a similar tack, with trippy samples washing over some fairly simple and clean guitar chords, ultimately finding very solid footing when a surprisingly hard-hitting drum beat arrives in the song’s final third. All of a sudden the bedroom pop project begins to sound more like a rock band, more explicitly so on jangle pop songs like “Thaw” or the peppy, upbeat indie rocker “Modern Love.” In the latter, the band sounds vastly more like The Pains of Being Pure at Heart than Panda Bear, yet on the whole the album seems to bridge those two artists, finding a common harmony between abstract ambient pop and warm, fuzzy indie rock.
While Redeemer ultimately finds City Center painting with similar hues as those found on their debut, their works have taken on new, more interesting shapes. The duo injects a healthy dose of hooks throughout the album’s ten tracks, at times more or less abandoning their more abstract instincts altogether and hammering out an immediate pop tune. And when the pop songs end up as good as “Modern Love,” there’s no reason to obscure them with needless dressing.
Stream: City Center – “Modern Love”
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.