Review Summary: A band built to thrive on the EP format adds a little more meat to their infectious melodies.
When indie-pop act San Cisco unleashed the infuriatingly catchy 'Awkward' upon the masses in late 2011, they got more than just their foot in the door of the Australian music industry. Landing in the top 10 of a Triple J Hottest 100 (as well as #25 on yours truly's year-end song list), the cutesy tune was highlighted by conversational boy-girl vocals and more "da da da's" than you could count. Even as the song was leaving an indelible mark on all who listened to it, however, one couldn't help but get the feeling that if the Western Australian quartet was to achieve any kind of career longevity, they would have to add a little more meat to their vibrant, bouncy melodies. Their attempt to do so produced mixed results on their self-titled debut LP, while Steven Schram produced follow-up 'Gracetown' charts the same path with a little more success.
Opening strongly with its two lead singles of 'Run' and 'Too Much Time Together', 'Gracetown' continues to display San Cisco's knack for carving out infectious melodies. Hand-claps, funky bass-lines, jangly guitars, spiky keys and even beatboxing is used to lure listeners in, while the dual vocal dynamic of Jordi Davieson and Scarlett Stevens is gradually bought into play. 'Magic' and 'Snow' slow the pace down a little to satisfyingly add a few more layers, while irresistible highlight 'Wash It All Away' presents a summery vibe that befits the album art. Comparisons could be made with any number of indie-pop outfits, but 'Bitter Winter' suggests that the most accurate is Vampire Weekend, since Davieson channels Ezra Koenig to a T.
Of course, where the New York City quartet have it over these young Aussie upstarts is their winning ability to juxtapose their quirky and thoughtful characteristics in a manner which is sufficiently diverse. And while Gracetown's theme of young love adds rewarding cohesion and leads to some clever lyrical phrasing, singing about "first crushes" and "first kisses" is hardly deep subject matter. Further verification of the divide comes from the fact that San Cisco once more stumble as their LP progresses. The more sombre latter half here on 'Gracetown' hints at a more mature inclination which is admirable, but only partially successful. The subdued 'Mistakes' and lo-fi folk of 'Skool' especially fail to impress.
It sounds harsher than it is meant to, but maybe San Cisco are a band built to thrive on the EP format. For the second album in a row, the quartet have produced a strong and enjoyable opening half, before coming a cropper when looking to stretch too far outside of their comfort zone. Having said that, they do take some strides towards growth here with greater complexity in their arrangements and a more cohesive listening experience that nicely comes full circle on funky closer 'Just For a Minute'; the first track San Cisco has recorded which surpasses the four minute mark! It's difficult to deny the hooky melodies contained on 'Gracetown', an LP that is undoubtedly enjoyable in the moment, but has a questionable shelf life.
Recommended Tracks: Wash It All Away, Too Much Time Together, Bitter Winter & Run.