“The Lake, Part One” is an ambience piece that I’m assuming is the life going on around the lake we’re at as it gives way to “Are You Listening” which is a warming piano, organ and vocal track. Alex’s vocal’s are delicate and clean. The song itself then starts to build with percussion and all kinds of motif trickery slowly seeping into the track as it grows and develops into something quite rousing with all the vocal collages and the simple song structure being given room to breathe. “Never Look Back” sees things growing again with its childlike verses and freeforming choruses. Again there is a certain warming feeling to everything and it’s like a Christmas song without all the jingles. There’s some lovely crisp production throughout and here’s a place where it really shines.
“Oceanside” which features Ximena Sarinaña is the lead single and takes things to melancholy guitar front with its absolutely heartbreaking melody. By using a lot of little noises and percussive edges or open strings the audio palette is filled to the brim without every overcoming the emotion of the main melody. It’s a certain gift that A City On A Lake has throughout and its somewhat of his trademark. “Twenty Faces” is an interesting pop rock track with a tripping beat and an affinity for going for different chords so as to not be normal. Coupled with Alex’s quiet vocals and lots of xylophone love, it’s a cutely understated track.
“The Lake, Part Two” is a very short harmonium track like a demo which falls away to “We Will Surrender” which is by far the most uptempo track on the album so far and its also one of the most sparse. The piano only chimes the chords and its left to the vocals and token keyboard synth waves to carry the track. It’s an unusual juxtaposition that then bursts into a big middle eight before the final run through but again, it’s these production choices that hallmark the album all the way through. “The Fighter” again is a simple song that is given unusual production values. The drums are muted to a single clash and there’s a lot of warped twinkling flurries of keyboards. It’s as if the goal of the song is to change where each instrument would normally sit on the audio spectrum. I love it when artists play with things like that.
“Always Something Better” is more traditional with catchy hooks and is a fantastic place to start withif you’re new to A City On A Lake. Its delicate but dramatic and showcases all the sides of the album and artist in one track. “Patiently” is an acoustic guitar and vocal led track for the most part and is again understated in its beauty and almost warm to the touch. Alex’s simple vocals suit this type of music best and finishes things off nicely before the bizarre “Album Credits” where Alex basically reads the linear notes over background ambience of a fair. A unique idea!
A City On A Lake is a clever album from a clever artist. While the songs themselves are very simple, the production behind them is anything but. It raises the entire thing up a level and suddenly you have a really special album that you want to take time investigating and working its craft on you. Very highly recommended.