I woke up the other day to the sound of Stricken City. The jerky guitars, stark percussion and enticing voice of Rebekah Raa held me transfixed. Until the name of the band was announced, I would have sworn the song, “Pull the House Down,” a lost relic of an unrecognized band influenced by Missing Persons, Bow Wow Wow or Blondie. The truth is that all but the lost relic aspect of this statement are seemingly apt, as Stricken City is just making itself known, on the verge of infamy. After hearing this song, the second track on the band’s debut album, Songs About People I Know, I scoured the Internet for more information. I was at first on the verge of being disheartened, thinking that the album, like most great ones out of the UK, would be limited to its immediate environs, but was buoyed by the fact that it would see release from The Kora Recordings in the United States. Phew.
Songs starts out in a way you wouldn’t expect from a pop album, with a fuzzy, lo-fi a cappella, recorded on a bus. “Gifted” immediately drew me in, first from Raa’s lovely and earnest vocals, and second from the lyrics themselves, at odds with those who exploit for profit. Brilliantly, Raa never explicitly mentions this antagonist, leaving that in the mind of the listener. “Tak o Tak” is the first single to gain the band attention in England. Though not on the UK version of the album, we are treated to it here on the U.S. copy, turning a mini-album into a full-fledged affair. Plastic synths and jagged guitars are punctuated by Raa’s hiccupy vocal jerks, leaving one to link songs like “Tak o Tak” and “Small Things” to the Sugarcubes or Life Without Buildings.
And yet, Stricken City is not as edgy or angular as one might suspect. “P.S.” is one of the most accessible songs I’ve heard in recent years, only accentuated by Raa’s dinstinct vocal style, at times smooth and soothing, before taking sharp inhuman turns into higher registers as punctuation. “Sometimes I Love You” is a gorgeous piece of music, akin to a Siouxsie & the Banshees track, or the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s “Maps.” “Five Metres Apart” is receiving a lot of attention currently, standing out as one of the most fully formed pop songs on the album. Aside from the addition of “Tak o Tak,” we are also treated to the addition of b-side, “The Traveller,” set side by side with closer “Terrible Things,” the two dark and somber tracks currently my favorite songs of Stricken City’s.
Songs About People I Know is a near complete collection of Stricken City’s releases so far. Oddly, we are only deprived of b-side “Bardou” and initial single, “Lost Art.” I’m not sure how the absence of these two tracks is relevant, other than to increase some level of allure, causing rabid fanboys to seek out limited import releases in search of these ‘missing tracks.’ Even without them, Songs About People I Know is a remarkable debut, one that seems too good to be true, as if the band had made some Faustian pact. I woke up to Stricken City, and so should you.
The Sugarcubes- Here Today, Tomorrow, Next Week!
Life Without Buildings – Any Other City
Black Kids – Partie Traumatic