City of Ships
Look What God Did to Us

A good portion of the first decade of the new millenium marketing in both underground and mainstream rock music has been a question of labelling all the new, increasingly interchangable product of independent and corporate labels. It used to be readily apparent which bands were indie and which mainstream, but those lines have been blurred by the movements of independent heavy bands towards more accessibility, think Cave In’s Jupiter and more recently, The End’s Elementary. This line is further obscured by the mainstream’s acceptance of heavier and ‘heavier’ bands, think Tool, as well as buzz worthy indie rock or indie rock-esque darlings, for example, most everything in mainstream radio rock right now.

As such, City of Ships’ debut album falls neatly into this chaos, shiftily toe-ing that aforementioned line, with rumbling, pulsating tempos and abstract harmonic sensibility performed with an ear for catchiness and that heartfelt earnestness that charactarizes many modern bands on both ends of the spectrum. Just when an especially heavy moment has you doubting the group will have that much mainstream appeal, an especially gentle part will have you picturing disaffected girls and girlish looking boys swaying along with their consistent and somber flow. Recalling at times some of the groups mentioned earlier, as well as Floor/Torche, Aereogramme, Planes Mistaken for Stars and even Porcupine Tree, the Floridian three-piece certainly ply their trade with an emphasis on building momentum while leaving room for some cosmic melodic ruminations, focusing on winding up for the big moment, the bombastic chorus and soul-searing release thereafter, and in terms of their modus operandi, the group can certainly be said to achieve the sound they are after, particularly hitting their stride mid-album with the combo of “March of the Slaves” and “Welcome to Earth”.

However excellent the performance and production of Look What God Did to Us is, though, I still can’t say City of Ships are really grabbing me, either in the sense of touching the heart with their more emotive moments, or banging my head with their heavier riffs. While being a big fan of many of the bands I’ve compared them with, the strength of the songwriting is just not quite there yet, though the potential certainly exists for it to get there with time. Maybe in this case it is a totally subjective complaint, as I can’t find many objective complaints specifically in composition or execution even after 7-8 listens where I was actively trying to find it. In fear of feeling like a failure as a reviewer by not being able to tell you to love it or leave it, I’m afraid my best direction to the reader is to indulge in another post-millenial music industry cliché, take the bands I mentioned above, put their names on a sticker preceded by the phrase ‘recommended for fans of” and give it a shot. For me personally, the band, if not this album particularly, is worthy of revisiting in the future.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by John Gnesin
August 18th, 2009

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