Some albums purposely fall apart at the end, scattering sonic fragments across the board. (Ólafur Arnalds’ Eulogy for Evolution is a prime example, sounding like a faulty circuit). City starts with collapse, to the extent that listeners may be checking their iPods for potential glitches. “Provinces” may be only 88 seconds long, but it ruins expectations before they can gel, clearing the board and creating a sense of anticipatory curiosity.
The tracks remain short, but for the most part, they are more interested in textures and patterns than anything resembling verses, choruses and bridges. One might make the case that they are all bridges. At times, the timbres are gentle and ambient (“Your Stream”), only to pave the way for whistles and gunshot percussion (“Pain Power”, first heard in Arcadia). The mastering is so crisp and immediate that it seems larger than life; to paraphrase Blade Runner, “more replicant than replicant.” If this is what the future sounds like, we want more of it.
The shadow of industrial music is also present, especially on the album’s longest piece, “SAR”, which sounds like something Intermix might have composed in its early days. A few publications have even taken to calling this genre “industrial grime” or “cyber grime”, but we’re not yet comfortable with the designation, as it leaves out the tracks that are not suited for the dance floor. “Mutual Life” has beats and gravity, but it’s closer to experimental music than to EBM. Only “Inevitable”, with its guttural repetitions of “Trouble”, really fits this mold, and even then, the pauses inhibit movement. Better perhaps to say that City is painting with electronic numbers. You can dance if you want to (and by “Immaculate”, you will), but if you don’t dance, you can still be his (virtual) friend.
Genre designations aside, this is an incredibly exciting time for electronic music. Emerging from a long frame of stagnation, the scene is now bursting with creativity. The old templates have been discarded as artists have begun to create from scratch. While there will always be room for songs with steady beats, those with unsteady beats are winning our hearts. (Richard Allen)