Golden Cities, Golden Cities
It’d be way, way easy to lump Golden Cities in with the whole guitar-heavy, spacey-atmospherics crowd, tag them as Explosions in the Sky 2.0 (3.5?), and move on. I mean, there’s a fair bit of doubled, echoey guitars on here, particularly on tracks like “The Beautiful Death of Immortality,” which by itself wouldn’t sound very out-of-place on the soundtrack to Friday Night Lights.
To pigeonhole these guys like that, though, would be a major disservice. For one thing, the atmospheric meanderings they come up with sound to me a lot more akin to Mogwai’s dark rumblings than anything the EitS boys have ever done; from lead-in track “Introit” forward, there’s a menacing, foreboding tone to the music, like it’s a warning. It definitely paints some gorgeously sky-like imagery, to be sure, but Golden Cities aren’t about pretty clouds drifting across the moon — rather, this the sound of a looming, threatening storm, one that’s likely to do a ton of damage before it moves on out to cripple some other community.
Granted, this whole feeling may be because I still see the debris left by Hurricane Ike every time I drive home from work or take my daughter to school, but to me Golden Cities seems remarkably prescient considering it was recorded in late 2007 (during the Perseids meteor shower, apparently, which accounts for at least one song title), long before Ike inflicted his wrath on Golden Cities’ (and my) adopted hometown. There’s majestic grandeur, sure, but despite the band’s name, there’s more of a sense of danger to it than of triumph. This is the sound of a storm passing by, just put to music.
Marcus Gausepohl and Nathan Heskia’s guitars lead the way, really, coming in distant and quiet — almost jazzy at points, but we’ll get back to that — and steadily, implacably building over the course of each track (and sometimes multiple times within a single track) to a thundering, overdistorted roar, something most members of the high-lonesome school of atmospheric rock would hardly ever touch. The drums, meanwhile, push the storm forward to wherever the heck it’s going, with drummer Lance Higdon throwing in these surprising jazz fills and off-kilter rhythms.
Listening to Higdon’s drumming, in particular, some of the band’s non-spacerock influences seem to peek through. There’s a resemblance to post-rock icons Tortoise, and stepping beyond them, Fugazi or even (no, really; bear with me here) jazz-fusion-y stuff from the ’70s — and that’s no bad, thing, as far as I’m concered. I’ve honestly never been big on either fusion or post-rock admittedly, but here they serve to somewhat deepen the mishmash of styles; there’s the Mogwai-/Pelican-esque guitar crushers, the grand, wide-open-sounding Explosions in the Sky instrumentals, the quirky avant-jazz undercurrent, and even some proto-emo-style stuff scattered throughout (“Where the Earth Meets the Sky” makes me think of EndSerenading-era Mineral, for one).
I should probably note, by the way, that I’ve had a hell of a time discerning one track from another, even when I’m sitting here with the CD case staring me in the face. It’s partly because the band crafts multiple movements within the songs themselves, so much so that I’ve had to check the CD player in my car to make sure that yes, I was still on track 2, but more than that, Golden Cities just feels like one big long track, meant to be listened to and digested slowly on a long drive home. Just sit and squint into the setting sun, watching the clouds build off in the distance.