Just when it seems like every artist and band with a mild-to-moderately established fanbase has pivoted to holiday-themed, Christmas traditional, or New Year’s cover songs for the remainder of 2020, City Mouth opted to flout this cruise control notion with the unveiling of a new single, “Fall Songs.”
Though “Fall Songs” is in fact just one track and not a two-sided single in the traditional sense, this freshly released original from the Evergreen, IL indie band is a welcome musical oasis amid an ever creeping tide of thematically analogous music. Since the release of their debut full length record, “Coping Machine,” back in May, City Mouth has kept a relatively low profile with regards to plans on the sonic direction of new material. This latest track is the first substantial peek into what songwriter and lead vocalist, Matt Pow, has chosen to focus on in the interim. The end result, both musical and conceptual, makes all the sense in the world, while still offering an element of the unexpected in its listening experience.
A comfortable length of just over three minutes, “Fall Songs” wastes no time letting listeners know that synthesizer tones and digital drum beats are getting an increasing berth of responsibility from their already emboldened pedestal within the songs of Coping Machine. While the skill and artistic finesse of drummer Jessica Burdeaux, bassist Evan Opitz, and guitarist, Ryan Kress have no in way waned or gotten stale, the prevalence of varying artificial tones – from small, beeping, and fleeting, to longer, deeper, and bursting – during the song’s verses highlights how City Mouth’s collective sound has continued to embrace a more definitively synth-pop style over that of the predominantly band driven pop-punk sound that fueled 2018’s Hollows EP.
That said, once “Fall Songs’” chorus kicks in, listeners can relish in the aural satisfaction of a familiar full band flourish, where the tide of synthesizers ebbs, and the impact of City Mouth’s established rock foundation flows. Lyrically, there too remains a lifeline to the residual struggles of Coping Machine, and even Hollows as well. “Fall Songs” sees Pow reflections on more emotional states, this time outward as well as inward, events of the past and present, self-doubts surrounding all of it, and then intermittently presenting these thoughts through metaphors of a spiritual nature. Even the cover art for the single has a nod of clever continuity and playful wordplay, as the beach from Coping Machine’s cover art has turned to a late evening glow, void of its gloomy robot beachgoer and “Closed for the Season” as the band prepares for the fall.
I’ve been open praying for a sign
To tell me I should move on
I’m scared to leave it all behind
Been stuck between for too long
– Lyrics from “Fall Songs”
Such talk of established sonic structure might make the idea of much newness on City Mouth’s part seem like a bait and switch. However, a slightly closer listen reveals a subtle but notable shift in tonality. Kress’s guitar boasts a very angular but bright and reverberating tone. While this overall set of qualities differs from Kress’s previously looser and more free styling tone as is, the added touch of mild reverberation prevents his guitar from exuding the vibes of slightly harsher glam rock, aligning instead with more of a cheerful indie pop vibe. One could even say there’s an inkling of surf rock character in the choruses, as Burdeuax’s bold and cavernous drum hits add to the wide open, and floating feeling of the melody. The overall aesthetic is clear and crisp but “Fall Songs” still encourages some overlap between parts – particularly with regard to Pow’s vocals, which take on a significant amount of delay on some words in the verses.
All the same, this doesn’t mean to infer “Fall Songs” as being explicitly stiff in its presentation of musical changes – from synths in one section, to rock band in the next; and from dry instrument tones, to echoes on vocals. When Pow’s vocals begin in the second verse, for example, his voice is delivered with a contrast of upfront mix placement, which gives Pow’s slightly somber, almost whisper-esque singing a very intimate quality, diverging from the boundlessness just one verse prior. It’s a nice nod of creative range without drastically pivoting the music outside its growing personality. The same can be said as the song continues through the instrumental interlude and subsequent vocal bridge. The former showcases the band’s satisfying chemistry in full force, while the latter flips priority back around to Pow, in an abruptly unplugged section that’s left to just himself and a gently strummed acoustic guitar. It’s in this back section of the track, as “Fall Songs” winds down, that City Mouth uses the emptiness of that acoustic detour to rebuild up to full band participation for the outtro. This incremental approach provides a decisive and dynamically strong finish that alludes to optimistic closure, (Double check that I’m still alive / Dust the shelves and I might just find / A holy ghost, a shred of hope / That I could be fine; I could be all right) without ignoring or discounting City Mouth’s history for inclusion of emotional skepticism and uncertainty, as the last note and chord ends on a minor interval rather than move to a complete, major resolution. It’s a clever final way to embody the emotional duality of the band but show the intent to try and look on the hopeful side of things more as time goes on.
Stay up to date with City Mouth’s work through these social media platforms: