What I’m listening to: City Center

It’s always a great feeling when a musician you love matures along with you. Before forming City Center, indie vet Fred Thomas fronted lo-fi, twee-pop band Saturday Looks Good to Me, whose vintage anthems and poetic lyrics (you spent so much time typing/ that you forgot how to write letters) really SPOKE to a teenaged me. (They even toured with Saves the Day my senior year of high school, who were like, my favorite band ever.)

But by 2008, the band was starting to fizzle, and Thomas—always persistent—starting writing and recording on his own, releasing songs and cassettes under the moniker “City Center”—named after the many signs bearing the phrase spotted while touring Europe. Soon after, he joined forces with former SLGTM bandmate Ryan Howard, and together they released City Center, a dreamy record of wispy soundscapes and sparkling melodies that went mostly overlooked by the greater music world.

Luckily for all, Thomas was never in it for the fame, and soon after Center dropped, the band was hard at work on a new crop of songs. These songs eventually became Redeemer, a beautiful collection of amorphous pop nuggets and gauzy explorations, released this Tuesday on K Records.

Existing somewhere between the hazy etherealism of Grouper, the exuberant sound collages of Animal Collective or Panda Bear, and of course, the gentle sentimentality of SLGTM—Redeemer is music for summer mornings at the beach, aimless walks in the park, or low-key hang sessions with friends. Songs are dreamy, encompassing and littered with pop flourishes—although never so much that you’d pick them out as pop tunes; it’s more like beautiful experimentation.

Opener “Puppers” begins with the sound of rushing water and woozy guitars; as it continues, it expands, morphing finally into a hazy mass of shimmering guitars and teeming layers. “Obvious” and “Modern Love” are both as close to real pop songs as we get, with reverb-drenched disco beats and cheery major chords, respectively. Elsewhere, “Cookies” is wistful, noisy, and murky, with surprisingly angst-y lyrics about youth and memory—while “Thaw” rambles along with twang-y post-punk fervor. And although the sound shifts considerably throughout, Redeemer, as a whole, feel remarkably cohesive.

The album ends with the gorgeous, amorphous “Teardrop Children,” a 6-and-a-half minute foray into airy atmospherics and aching lyrics about the challenges of youth and growing up.

“I grew up in suburban Michigan…as a kid, there is this overwhelming boredom with the lack of anything targeted at you,” explains Howard in an interview with Vol. 1 Brooklyn. “You can’t drive, you’re not taken seriously, so you end up going off on this weird, alternative trajectory of exploring and exploiting—you go to Subway, for example, to skateboard, not to eat; you go to Starbucks not for the coffee, but because there’s a great spot behind it to do drugs or make out or whatever. That kind of “alternative reality” of the teen years—in all its beauty as much as in its stupidity and mistakes—informed the record in a big way.”

Scoop up Redeemer at K Records.

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