City Center: City Center

In all probability, every review of City Center, the eponymous debut full-length release by Brooklyn-based Fred Thomas (one-time mastermind of Saturday Looks Good To Me) and Ryan Howard, will make mention of Animal Collective and Panda Bear but to not do so would be disingenuous. More precisely, City Center's tripped-out travelogue of psychedelic songs invites a “Tommy James and The Shondells-meets-Animal Collective” characterization. Thomas and Howard bury reverb-heavy vocals, acoustic guitar strums, and pop hooks under broiling cauldrons of blurry noise in a fifty-minute collection that sometimes pushes the boundaries too far. The songs' instrumental masses form quicksands from electronics, guitars, synthesizers, and mangled noises of unidentifiable character, with bells and assorted other percussion devices lending the songs a trippy, psych-folk character. In terms of trajectory, the album retreats from its initial focus on pop song-like design towards a wildly experimental instrumental style in the middle before returning to terra firma at the end.

Sounding as if it was recorded underwater, “Killer Whale” underpins a trippy and echo-laden vocal delivery with an agitated undercurrent. Considerably livelier, “Open/House” pulsates with chiming electric guitars and uptempo beats and then drowns in a pool of psychedelic noise before extricating itself for a gamelan-tinged close. A turbulent morass of sleigh bells, guitar noise, and buried vocals, “Bleed Blood” builds to a wailing carousel of distortion and garbled vocalizing, while the aptly-named “Cloud Center” moves like a slow-motion, shape-shifting colossus of largely instrumental design (vocals are present but so buried in the mix they're more sonic window dressing than a focal point). A blurry cauldron of droning, synthesizer waves (“You Are a Force”) follows, after which the jaunty pop of “Summer School” returns the album to earth with a song that's as close to conventional song structure as City Center gets. The material occasionally threatens to go off the deep end and does so at least once. After opening with a full-tilt noise intro, “Young Diamond” settles down for a few moments of strings and glockenspiel before a blistering swell of noise derails the tune. The relative sanity of the downtempo closer “Unfinished Hex” helps wash away the bitter aftertaste of “Young Diamond.” Willfully dazed and confused, City Center is definitely one for those who like their pop waterlogged and soaked in acid baths.

July 2009