Album Review: City States -Geography

Its been a long time coming for Joel Ebner, aka City States. After nearly six years of false starts, mutations and detours, and at the (relatively) ripe old age of 34, he’s finally completed his debut album, Geography.

He’s had some pushes on the way, notably keyboardist / producer Steve Lund and drummer Mike Burmeister, even John McEntire of Tortoise / Sea & Cake, who mixed the record, but maybe it was something closer to home, the sudden death of his father that ultimately inspired Ebner to get over his perfectionism or fear of failure, or whatever it was that stalled previous efforts.

The feelings that Ebner was left with following his loss form most of the lyrical content in the record; feelings of loss and grief and sadness fill the record, none more so than in ‘To Remember’, inspired by the eulogy that Ebner gave at his father’s memorial service, detailing the relationship they had via the Fender Jaguar his dad bought in the early 1960s.

As with many of the other tracks on the album, there’s this feeling of ordered electronica about the track, somewhere between Eno and Stereolab musically, but more poppy, more accessible than that. It’s certainly skillfully cut up and layered, and given the appropriate amount of atmospherics.

As if to justify it, or contextualise it, it’s followed by a little codetta, musically hinting at the church organ playing the hymns at that final goodbye. Its titled (For Dad).

Elsewhere on the album, there’s more immediate, in your face pieces, like the bounding almost indie rock / electronica of Endless Sunlight, the heart-stopping bubbling electro of the opener False Start, and the cool bright brilliance of There Was a time all stand out.

Perhaps best of all is the stunning rippling electro of Uncharted Waters, shards of piano interrupting this electronic hue as Ebner reaches one of the emotional high points of the record.

Geography is a deeply personal record, by an artist that’s struggled to express himself fully before. Even on this record, Ebner occasionally sounds, and feels self-conscious. That he’s got his message out, all wrapped up in listenable pop and electronica in equal measures is a testament to the man.

I’ve an idea that someones looking down with a smile on their face.

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