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Artist: City Center

Album: City Center

Label: Type

Review date: May. 28, 2009


City Center - "Open/House" (City Center)


With the latest Animal Collective collector fetish item creating an eBay frenzy reserved for things like the Google IPO, it’s safe to say that there’s a market for their particular brand. And as supposedly “outsider pop” becomes the bread and butter of art-school insiders, whole packs of copy cats have emerged to no fanfare. Now, Fred Thomas of Saturday Looks Good to Me fame has tossed his hat into the hype ring with City Center. If you perked up at the personnel mention, my apologies, because not even a musician with his pedigree and experience can save this record from being much too late to the party.

City Center is largely a victim of its own anxiety of influence. Every song in the first half of the album tries so hard to get somewhere, but just ends up breaking down when it becomes obvious there’s no end in sight. “Open House” loses any sense of coherency about halfway through, deteriorating into a bunch of half-baked ideas, too scared to stop, lest the jig be up.

This uncertainty and lack of artistic clarity leads to a lot of stabbing in the dark. Conventional loops and samples appear with no reason, because … well, why not? Like on “Life Was a Problem”: perhaps some more marimba-y wind chime? No problem. We’ve got an unlimited supply. And that seems to be the prevailing wisdom for most of this record – things just get tossed around. Eventually something’s going to stick. Nevermind the complete and total mess that you leave at the bottom of the wall.

The sole breakout track here comes about halfway through with “Bleed Blood,” which also happens to be the most adept Panda Bear maybe-cover on the whole album. The clutter steadily builds as usual, but just about when it’s time to grab the No-Doze, the second act plows ahead with a recklessly and seemingly endlessly repeated sample of some cat wailing “I’m waiting.” Pretty soon it takes over the track completely, spinning out of control, slowly being reduced to the most basic syllables as Thomas manically stabs away at the sampler. It’s a little too hyper and lacks any sense of self-consciousness, which is ultimately what saves it.

And then it stops. And we’re back where we started. As quickly as the revelation began, it ends, catching a bit of stage fright before stalling out and fading back into mediocrity. But now any sense of dynamism is gone, replaced by a series of near static drone, caught somewhere between glacial and eye-glazing.

Yelps and tape loops and being a weirdo aren’t necessarily something you can really own, or that could ever be deemed the property of a single aesthetic. But when deployed in such an obvious fashion, you have to wonder about Thomas’s thought process. “He must have moved to Brooklyn” is the snarky fall-back, but for a guy with a lot of music under his belt, it’s troubling to see such blatantly by-the-numbers thinking. Hopefully there’s an easy answer, like pot.

There’s hope in the finale, the ironically named “Unfinished Hex,” which sees Thomas retreating back into more familiar territory with a pretty alright wooden guitar downer track. It sounds like the raising of the white flag and a retreat from the whole misadventure. Let it be a lesson to those who follow.

By Evan Hanlon

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