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'Are You Free?'   

-  Label: 'Saint Marie Records'
-  Genre: 'Rock' -  Release Date: '11th August 2017'

Our Rating:
2010's Glow In The Dark Music, this band's debut release, was, frankly, such a sludgy mess it would not have been no great surprise if the career of Crash City Saints, a trio from Kalamazoo, Michigan, had ended there.

Even the press release owns up to a number of "missed connections" and "a series of false starts and crushing disappointments".

The final track of that record was called 'Keep Your Dreams Alive' but the seven year gap between that and this new release does not suggest that the band were on anything remotely resembling a roll.

However, against the odds, the much delayed follow up record turns out to be very good indeed. Above all, there seems to a shape and a substance absent from their debut.

The presence of one of the group's heroes, Cocteau Twin Simon Raymonde, playing bass on the track Dawn Of A Bright New Nothing, gives an added psychological boost and endorsement.

Other spiritual/musical guidance undoubtedly derives from My Bloody Valentine and other groups of this ilk (Act 2 is the track that makes the MBV influence most obvious).

Promoted as a "shoegaze Quadrophenia" the twelve tunes chart a personal journey from a teenage wasteland to the life of a still not entirely sorted out adult.

This is a concept album of sorts but can be enjoyed without knowing the stories behind the tracks. Nevertheless, a helpful track by track guide by songwriter and vocalist Joshua Garman puts some flesh on the bone.

It begins with the relative brightness of Ice Cream Headache covering "a time of innocence and simple pleasures" after Garman moved to Florida from Michigan with his mom and two brothers in 1982 at the age of nine.

When he realized life was no video game, the initial appeal of this new home soon faded. By the time he reached 16, Garman's view of life Florida was akin to that of Pulp's Common People in that it was a place to "smoke and drink and screw because there's nothing else to do". The phoniness of the city is the theme of Smile Lines.

Songs charting the period after the hormones kicked in include the punchy There's No School Tomorrow, Use Once Then Dispose and a song to an imaginary girlfriend (Annabelle).

Music being a constant source of consolation, Spirit Photography is a homage to the UK's Madchester scene.

There's not really a happy ending to the tale but at least the anti-hero doesn't end up driving off a cliff like The Who's Jimmy. Instead, the penultimate track, a rousing New Order style piece entitled The Hour Of The Wolf, refers to an unhappy period living a nocturnal existence during a year of being homeless in Venice, Florida.

The band bow out with Harbor Lights,a storming instrumental actually written before their debut which they never got around to recording. They went through several takes until, as Garman admits, "we couldn’t decide which version to use, so we ended up using them all. Anything worth doing is worth overdoing.

Despite this comment, the controlled power of the record as a whole shows the band's greater self discipline and confidence.

With generous doses of fuzzy guitar riffs and indistinct vocals, the head-banging elements are firmly in place but, crucially, there is enough variety and plenty of post-rocky/pop-friendly moments to show that they are doing far more than merely blasting the senses into submission.

Record label website
  author: Martin Raybould

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