Spanning only 25 minutes, the latest offering from Vancouver- (formerly Kelowna-) based art pop band We Are The City is a strong reminder of how the band was able to break out of the Okanagan and become a global touring act. Recently, We Are The City may best be known as the visionaries behind the film Violent, a Norwegian sci-fi film co-written by members of the band to accompany the release of their last album of the same title. I don’t know if this most recent release — titled Above Club — will spark another film project, but it surely makes a strong melodic statement.
From the record’s opening track, “Take Your Picture With Me While You Still Can,” the band sets an experimental and vagrant tone. A complex mix of synths, pads, guitars, and drums lie beneath the strong and charismatic melodies of lead vocalist Cayne McKenzie, carrying almost a tribal feel with its strong and punchy rhythm. The tracks that follow the “Take Your Picture With Me While You Still Can” formula of using a strong percussive rhythm to lock down the almost frantic array of guitars and synths are those that work best on Above Club. Some examples are “Heavy as a Brick,” “Keep On Dancing,” and “Kiss Me Honey,” which all fall under the prior formula. However, labelling all these songs as carbon copies is unjust, as each contains its own unique feel. “Heavy as a Brick” features punishing and pulsating synths, while “Keep On Dancing” treads on the lighter side, with more airy guitars and keyboards. “Keep On Dancing” is the definitive “radio-ready” track from the album, and I sense the band will gain a lot of new fans due to this track alone.
Despite these positives, the album does suffer in some areas. The main problem with any We Are The City record tends to be lyrical content. Though the group possesses the ability to create strong vocal melodies that remain in your head for days, the lyrical depth usually leaves you scratching your head. Lines such as “Sprawl / Sob / Resolve / To quit your job at the mall / Call card ran out / Pick you up at Helen’s later,” and “I follow myself everywhere I go / Everywhere I go I follow myself / I think I know what I think I know” leave you dissatisfied and work against the album as a whole. Furthermore, some tracks on the album sadly just don’t work, and given the album’s short length, this becomes a noticeable detriment. These tracks are “Club Music” and “Sign My Name Like QUEEN,” which have no set direction and end up killing the flow generated by the first three tracks. Together, they will probably stop some listeners from getting to the album’s final three tracks, which are just as stellar as the first three.
“Art pop” is a term that has seen a rise in recent years, especially since Lady Gaga used it as a title for one of her records, but I feel the increased use has been to the genre’s detriment. Many more mainstream pop acts have been branded, at least partially, as art pop when it simply isn’t the case. Above Club is an album that firmly channels what art pop should be, and does it in such a matter-of-fact way that hopefully it will help to sway the genre back to its correct categorization.