Review Summary: Outstanding post-rock/screamo from a talented band.
Ai is Indonesian band A City Sorrow Built’s third release, after a pair of solid EPs. While the group does relatively little to deviate from its brand of post-rock-infused screamo, the album marks a substantial progression for the promising group, with excellent songwriting on display and a very cohesive feel.
While Ai is the band’s first full-length release, it is far from overly long, clocking in at approximately 32 minutes. This relatively brief listening time is perhaps an advantage in this case, as the album certainly avoids overstaying its welcome. Ai’s eight tracks are mostly short, each being under five minutes in length, with the exception of the penultimate slow-burner “Duka/Cita”.
A City Sorrow Built clearly did not transform their sound with this release; indeed, their sound remains quite similar to that of their previous EPs. This is not intended as a criticism, given that the band is still early in its career, and thus seems to be focusing on perfecting their desired style, rather than experimenting and adopting new influences excessively. In regard to mastering their intended sound, A City Sorrow Built has clearly succeeded to a large extent on this release. The songs are well-crafted, and every track is enjoyable in its own right. The more melodic sections are frequently gorgeous and somewhat atmospheric, while the heavier elements are equally effective. Finally, “Duka/Cita”, the longest of the release’s songs, excels as perhaps the ideal representation of the musical brand the group is attempting.
Ai’s nature as an album is intensely dualistic, marked by the combination of, and often dramatic shifts between, gentle post-rock segments and harsh screamo pieces. While such a juxtaposition is not unique (indeed, whole subgenres have been formed around these ideas), the band has always managed this style with ease, and this new release demonstrates that once again. Ai is an album replete with dramatic shifts in tone and musical style. The jarring transition between the pretty post-rock of opener “Dua Puluh” and the aggressive screamo track “Hati/Salju” is especially notable in this regard. Like the best representations of this style, though, Ai does not feel like two different albums uneasily coexisting together. Rather, the bitter heaviness of a track like “Hitam/Putih” manages to possess an intangible connection with the soothing ballad which closes Ai, “Kasih/Sayang”. The result is a cohesive listen, somewhat bleak and overwhelmingly cathartic, but at the same time possessing considerable beauty.
In the end, Ai marks a substantial step forward for a promising band. While A City Sorrow Built still treads the same musical territory, this consistent release provides a more developed sound and showcases some noticeably-improved songwriting. Ai is a fundamentally strong album which comes highly recommended to anyone with even a passing interest in either post-rock or screamo.