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Monday, September 19, 2011

As Cities Burn -- Hell or High Water


As Cities Burn frontman, Cody Bonnette, actually seems like he is having fun on their swansong album, Hell or High Water. Considering their previous album, Come Now Sleep, was as serious as two heart attacks, this is a minor miracle.
The album kicks off with immediate energy in the form of "'84 Sheepdog," and the energy even gains--*gasp*--positivity with a super fun horn-breakdown and the repeated refrain "round and round we go." It's almost unbelievable that this is the same band, and in a way, it's not. Bonnette wrote and recorded a lot of this music himself, with second guitarist Chris Lott flying in to play a couple of fun accentuating riffs on most of the tracks, and drummer, Aaron Lunsford, tracking some drums. This almost makes for a "Cody & Friends" feeling, and considering the fun, explorative mood Bonnette seemed to be in during these recording sessions, that's just fine. Even the songs with less-than chipper POV's aren't downers--"Made Too Pretty" has pretty deep lyrical aspirations, but unlike the more ponderous moments of "Come Now Sleep," never gets bogged down, staying enjoyable and inventive throughout. "Lady Blue" seems like it will wander down the dreary "Sleep" road as well, but then the ramshackle percussion comes in, and the "round and round" refrain from "Errand Rum" comes back with a synthesizer and a female-backup. The whole thing sounds like a scavenger hunt in a medieval castle, or (fitting the song-titles and album artwork) the hallways under the deck of a pirate ship.

Bonnette sounds just the right amount of detached throughout Hell or High Water, and even pokes fun of himself a little bit ("If there's one thing bigger than my head, it's the distance I've been misled" and "If all the world's a stage, then it's not mine."). He even laughs a couple times. The result makes for many rewarding listens, even back to back, as the 35-minute length is long enough to feel complete, but not exhausting to the point that you don't want to listen to it again immediately. The disc evens ends on a light note with "Capo," a straight-forward, keyboard-driven rocker about greedy televangelists that features a fun, simple tag-team chorus between Bonnette and Jonzetta frontman, Robert Chisolm: "I've got nothing to say to you."
This is actually a band with a lot to say, and the new sense of light-heartedness actually gives As Cities Burn more of an edge than the old gloominess. The sound of a studio-door closing left in the background of "Capo" highlights this more than ever--it's like the sound of their pretentions leaving as they make their final statement...and just as they finally reached a perfect balance between sound and aspiration...they broke up.
At least they ended things on a High note.
There is your lame Nicsperiment pun for the week.
IN CONCLUSION FOR THOSE OBLIVIOUS TO REPEATED WORDS AND STATEMENTS: If you liked parts of Come Now Sleep , thought As Cities Burn had a lot of talent, but also thought they really needed to lighten up, this album is just about perfect.

2009 Tooth & Nail
1. '84 Sheepdog 3:08
2. Errand Rum 3:17
3. Into the Sea 4:32
4. Made Too Pretty 4:06
5. Lady Blue 6:20
6. Petty 3:39
7. Daughter 3:13
8. Pirate Blues 4:08
9. Capo 4:10

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