Review- “Mice Can Start Fires”- Sea and City

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)

3 comments

  1. Goodjob, Mr McCrindle you harshly reviewed a bands first EP! One thing though, you’re harshness towards me, the producer, is unwarranted. “In the hands of a good producer, this song could come across much better in my humble opinion.” Please, next time just say “if the producing had been better” – it’s a lot less offensive to the person who spent hundreds of hours working on his first Producing, Mixing and Engineering project (at a cottage). I respect and value your opinion and I will try to learn from your advice and critique – but ouch, you come across, to me, as a serious asshole. Please show more respect for people, and their passions and livelihoods, in the future.

    • I’m sorry for calling you an asshole, sincerely. I was hypocritical and quickly angered – I expected this when I entered the industry, just never so direct at such an early stage from someone I don’t know. I’ll be sure to send you the next album I do to see if I’ve improved any. Thanks for your review.

  2. Hi Jon-Paul. I am truly sorry if you took the review personally, and I have to say on my own behalf that my reviews are never, ever meant to be attacks. However, I also believe its not right to candy coat things, and if a band or artist can take something meaningful from the critique, it can actually serve to help them. In this case, just the fact that you took the time to write your notes shows that you truly care about the band and the music and that in itself is huge. I think you probably would agree, after some thought, that there is room for growth. If there wasn’t, why would you even bother doing it in the first place? Something else to think about is the fact that EVERY great band out there has had at least one bad review. And EVERY great band has also used that review to better themselves. Use your anger is fuel. Use it to improve your craft. THAT could be the valuable thing you get from this. I am also very positive I will hear good things from this band because I already HAVE heard good things from this band. If you read through the review again you will see that I have said some positive things about the album. And I also can relate to your feeling about spending so much time putting things together. I was in a recording band before and know the time, the blood, the sweat and the tears that goes into it. And please don’t think I was criticizing you personally for your work. I am sure you put everything into it that you could. Music reviews in a lot of ways are like criticizing people’s children. It’s just not the thing nice people do. But if you or I or anyone just lived in a world where no one said anything that we disagreed with, how would we grow? How would we truly reach our potential. I truly want the band to succeed. And I think, as I said, the raw materials are there to make it happen. It’s, as you say, the first EP. I bet the next one willl be better and the next one after that even better. If that happens in part just because you want to stick it to me and prove me wrong, then fantastic! Whatever it takes. I truly do witsh you guys all the best. As for me being an asshole, well…I’ve been called worse by better people! Hahahaha. Have a great day Jon-Paul and I sincerely look forward to hearing the next album

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