Review Summary: City Riots give us the music, we must give ourselves the memories.
It's hard to review the debut album from Australian four piece City Riots without complicating things - it's not that it's not about the music, but it's essentially what we create from the music given to us. With Sea of Bright Lights the band have given us a perfect summer soundtrack (perfect timing for those Australian and southern-hemisphere dwelling of us, a little more time to warm up to the band for the top half of the world) in an album filled with dreamy vocals and soaring choruses twisting under and rising above reverb-drenched guitars and buzzing synths. Sounds like a lovely indie pop affair, but nothing too striking for those of us who aren't hardcore fans of the genre?
Look at it this way: Sea of Bright Lights is presented to us as a soundtrack to our personal summer. We escape the indoors, we travel, we soak up the sun and the sand, we lie on the beach, we spent time with those close to us, we party. And when it's all said and done, we are left with fond memories - or photographs, whichever you prefer. Now imagine we let Sea of Bright Lights become the soundtrack to this summer: 'In This Space' is a City Circle train, looking out on the harbour and the ocean through the windows. 'Wait for You' is a burning sunset into the sparkling city, or the orange ocean. 'Pirates' is a campfire in the hot and humid night. It's attaching either certain songs or the album itself (whichever kind of person you are) to good memories that can turn a good song into your all time favourite, or a 3.5 album into a 4.5 or 5 out of 5. Every song on this album is crafted for us to go and have our way with them - to connect with the music and attach it to memories we're not likely to forget quickly.
As for the music itself, Sea of Bright Lights keeps interest through individual songs as well as keeping the cohesion of an album. At times it can be uplifting and upbeat, such as the opener 'Turn' which establishes the mood and feeling of the album straight away, the soaring 'In This Space', or within the thumping drums and staccato riffs of 'Sucker Punch' and 'Lonely Hearts' which serve as a throwback to the energetic guitar-driven indie rock found on City Riots' earlier releases. For the most part it is more of a relaxing and calming affair, preferring spacey soundscapes and melodies delivered through far away vocals and guitars. Standouts 'Wait for You' and 'Take You There' are perfect examples of this, with the kind of choruses that sneak their way into your subconscious until you're humming them along involuntarily. Slow burners 'Closer', 'Pirates' and 'It's Been a Long Time' serve to bring the synths into the foreground, battling with the guitar to rise above each other in a sea of delay and reverb. Of course it would be rude of me to not mention the bass, an instrument which here never falls short of complimenting the drums and guitar but also tends to add a new layer under the ever-wandering guitar, of which is vital in songs such as 'Wait for You' and 'Catch the Sun'. But above all, it's the soft, high-end vocals delivering lyrics concerned with not much more than the sun and the sea that do the best job of grabbing your attention and transporting you to a warmer, sunnier place.
The Matchsticks EP in 2010 saw City Riots close with 'Out of Time' - a six minute journey of falsetto and reverb that served as an indicator of what was to come. You can almost feel the sunburn and smell the sea breeze from Sea of Bright Lights, an album that longs for a special connection of songs to memories. Those of us who are perfectly content with just a great dreamy indie pop album are welcome to it, but next time there's a beach or a sunny day, let City Riots take you there.
Come outside to the breeze of the night and the beach air shields me from daylight.
I'm watching all the boats in the harbour over clear skies in summer close, I'm only ever here for the weekend setting sail for a skylit coast.
Do you wanna go, do you wanna go? If you want I can take you there.
And we lay there in the house you made, and we stayed there until summer came.