reviewed by Cory McCrindle
If this EP has a target audience, it may be those who are lonesome for the East Coast or life near the water in general. That’s the mood it seems to invoke. And what I’ve heard leads me to think that while Sea and City has some very good raw materials to work with here, the product sounds like it’s not quite finished. Still, the EP shows that the band has quite a lot of promise.
The first track I listened to is called “Dreaming About the Sea.” It is an atmospheric number featuring guitar and banjo as well as echoing vocals. It’s somewhat comforting, although feels a bit amateurish in its execution. There’s a little bit of a Simon and Garfunkel vibe going on here at the beginning, but then the track morphs into a bit of cacophony. Overall, the song shows flashes of Broken Social Scene and perhaps even Arcade Fire, but with a decidedly Celtic lilt. It’s a damn good effort, mind you, and the instrumentation is solid. I am especially taken with the great drumming here. The downside, I feel, is that the mix is a little muddy. In the hands of a good producer, this song could come across much better in my humble opinion.
The second track, “Two Weeks,” sounds a bit like 80’s Brit-Pop, maybe a poor cousin to the Modern English hit “I Melt With You.” It has a similar bright delivery that almost transcends the soggy mix…almost. I will say that I again enjoyed the crisp drumming, and that I loved the great bass break. The lyrics are for the most part light and airy. For example, the lines “Call me in the morning and we can talk about the truth/Fairytales and whimsical ideas, of things you’d never know/We used to sit and feed the ducks/or drive around in that old pickup truck/Do you remember?” suggest a carefree time gone by. However, the buoyant mind picture is stifled by having to hear it as if there was a sponge in the speakers.
“Lungs” is another atmospheric tune. The drummer is the true star here and puts on a terrific, mesmerizing percussive display. As a result, the guitar and steady bass – while solid – are relegated to supporting roles. It appears to be yet another nautical-themed number in some respects. The hollow sounding vocals lend to the ethereal quality. I am reminded somewhat of Dream Academy with this song. The repeated phrase “Right above my head there’s an ocean” does more to confuse than to clarify. But the line can be overlooked in the interests of poetic license.
The next number, “The Distance Above and Below,” is a reverberating instrumental track that sounds like it would fit perfectly into the soundtrack of a road adventure movie. But at 1:46 run time, it seems to me to be incomplete. I actually quite enjoyed listening to it and wanted to travel, musically-speaking, along with it. Unfortunately, it didn’t take me as far as I would have liked to go. Near the end you hear some distant sounding background vocals perhaps meant to sound like angel-choir ‘aaaahhhhs.’ In the version I heard, it kind of ends abruptly, and that to me does a disservice to both the song and the band.
“Wicker Chair” is the closest thing to a gem in this collection, although the gem is still somewhat flawed. I know under the surface of this number is a beautiful, powerful song…it’s just hard to actually hear it. The upside here is that the lyrics are pretty good, evocative of mood and with a strong delivery. The drumming, as it is throughout the album, is beyond reproach. There is some nice guitar work in what sounds like it must be a backwards track and I think I can imagine what the keyboards were meant to sound like. There is a nice sound collage at the end that includes more backwards tracking as well as a tolling bell. But the downside, yet again, is the muddy mix. And that robs me as a listener on what could have – and should have – been a very satisfying musical experience. I was also distracted by what I viewed as an unnecessary and distracting piano line. If it was meant to give colour to the piece, I think it failed. The song could have done without its inclusion. Still, this to me is without a doubt the best track on the CD.
The sixth and final song, “Angel Hair,” is in the same vein as some of the other tracks in terms of style. It has a dreamlike quality that you might justify using in one song, but perhaps not a whole album’s worth. It’s like a sonic rolling wave. It’s a moody, trippy number with a bit of a warm glow to it which suddenly emerges from its cocoon into the more clearly delivered line, “Don’t let me find you chasing after me” as if it is a separate song. That line builds into a chorus, backed with bird sounds and children’s noises. On the surface that may sound like a strange mixture, but somehow it works and is actually a nice touch.
While the songs from Mice Can Start Fires are less than perfect, there’s nothing here that couldn’t be made better with a cleaner sound mix. Sea and City seem to be on the right track and this is a good first step. It’s hard to base much of a prognosis on just six tracks, so I will wait to see what the band comes up with going forward and wish them all the best. But what I will say is that I sincerely hope they can use the good raw materials they have and build something more sonically solid in the future.
Mice Can Start Fires is available via Bandcamp. Also note that from that page, one can order “hand-packaged, personally loved” physical copies. They look pretty swell.
Top Tracks: “Angel Hair;” “Wicker Chair”
Rating: Young Hoot (Decent)