Category: The Small Cities

Review: The Small Cities, “With Fire”

The Small Cities’ guitarist Leif Bjornson and drummer David Osborn (who also split vocals and lyric-writing duties) grew up together in small-town Wisconsin, playing in high school bands before eventually splitting up for college and reuniting again in the Twin Cities. They haven’t lost touch with their rural roots, though—it’s right there in their band name, after all—and the wistful, melodic musings on With Fire are inspired in no small part by those earlier days. It’s an album that is consumed by the idea of memory, and perhaps its greatest strength is the band’s assured sense of storytelling, confessional and novelistic by turns, about the way the past informs the present for both good and bad. “Wonder Years” looks back at the awkward but thrilling days of teen romance, making mix-tapes and enduring the distrusting scrutiny of fathers before taking a girl out on a date, and discovering that love, whatever else it might be good for, is also a gateway to a larger world than you knew existed: “We were young and we would find to lose our hearts was to lose our minds—and our parents fell so far behind.”

The other main thread weaving its way through With Fire is religion—specifically, coming to terms with an upbringing you grow to disagree with, and trying to find a path for yourself that makes sense to you. “Abraham” describes a childhood grounded in tradition that’s both comforting (“in my father’s house / I knew my north from my south”) and toxic in its terrifying fear of the Rapture, the “fire” of the album title, winding up with a regretful head-shaking at “all the wasted days praying the Lord would change my ways.” Heavy stuff, but it’s also catchy enough to sing along to, buoyed by a jaunty guitar line and a driving, handclap-assisted rhythm that drives home what’s ultimately a joyful statement—hey, we’re not all going to die! “Wise Blood” picks up the theme again, with understated and deftly drawn imagery of wine as both religious sacrament and symbol of the loss of innocence in the line “spilled blood of Christ on your Easter dress.”

That energy simmers throughout the album, particularly in its first half, typified by “Laughter Song,” which shares a sense of wonder at the still-unblemished happiness of a newborn. But With Fire often hits hardest on the slow burners like the melancholy “Hospitals,” which goes for the emotional jugular with a story about a father still devastated more than a decade after the death of his son: “I think of him every time I see a child / and I lose track of myself sometimes / my mind goes running wild.”

Like their musical forebears Low, Radiohead, and Pedro The Lion, there’s a churning emotionality woven through The Small Cities’ earnest indie rock, a marbled texture of sadness and, more strongly, optimism—and it’s the latter that seems to truly define what The Small Cities are at their core.

Originally published March 2, 2012 on Read the complete article.

WordPress Themes

Spam prevention powered by Akismet