London based alternative rock group Useless Cities are back with the brand new EP ‘Stay’! Going into this EP I really knew nothing about the group other than their lineup, what immediately caught my eye (especially as an ambient producer myself) was the inclusion of a keys player in their ranks. Not enough rock love is given to the piano nowadays so it intrigued me to see how the dynamics would mesh with more varying instrumentation. Anyways without waffling on too long, let’s get right into the EP…
The ideas being thrown around here really excites me. There are moments similar to your average Foxing track and then other moments that are closer to a Death Cab For Cutie record; both high praise indeed. I really loved how they fleshed out harmonies and big sounds, allowing for these huge instrumentals to flourish over a lengthy period of time; everything felt developed and experimental. The inclusion of these gospel like vocal harmonies over indie rock instrumentals felt so fresh to me; as far as I know, Useless Cities are the only group that does this. The only thing that really lets this EP down to me, is production quality. I think the type of mix didn’t suit the group, it felt like it was more folky orientated than rock. I would ask for a deeper kick and snare (with a slight roomy reverb on top), the bass to be turned a notch down, the vocals to be slobbered with hall-like reverb and then perhaps chuck in a few ambient synths for good measure to thicken the mid ground up. Personal preference really but I know recording and mixing costs are catastrophically high at the moment so you can’t blame the group.
My favourite track here had to be ‘To Be Ruined’. The song really proved to me the potential of this group. With huge instrumentals that hence create such vibrant textures; the track really stood out to me as something special. The form of each track on the listing came across as almost proggy, I LOVE PROGGY. Each part was allowed to flow and develop into these huge maelstroms of epic artistry; I loved it. I also thought the tone of the guitar and it’s variation of tone felt really fresh to me too, with distortion only being used when really needed; this meant the clean tones could fully explore the key the track is in, exploring harmonies and chord progressions. And that piano, OH BOY THAT PIANO. That’s the exact type of playing I look for in this type of music. Minimalist, melody driven piano work. It frees up other parts to experiment more chordally when you have the beautiful melodies of a piano as your foreground. Hats off here, this is what will make the big bucks no doubt. The drumming is strong throughout the record too, with some really exploratory sequences that really open up the track. It never sits back on your stereotypical common time beats and instead uses more tom work and hi-hat work. The vocal harmonies, like I partially touched upon, are fantastic throughout the EP. ‘Stay’ in particular really created this unusual atmosphere with the gorgeous harmonies working almost like an on-going ostinato in the background.
Overall the EP is great fun and really screams potential. With a little more polish on the studio side of things, I see no reason why this group shouldn’t have great success.