City of Lights
Here, Alive is available at:
1st Janurary, 2015
AT this very moment- as opposed to any other time in my life- I am getting…
very excited about music- and planning some very big endeavours. I am looking to set up a music charity/business that really is all-encompassing and ambitious- so much so it will be a few years off. I understand how much great music there is; how many fantastic artists are undiscovered and untapped- how much past glory is going unnoticed/underplayed. In the same respect, there are a lot of people suffering illness and heartache: from mental illness to physical abuse; music seems a way of channeling depression and pain- balming wounds that are deep and painful. In addition, there is a lot of big-business money out there: organisations like Google and Microsoft who are spewing cash like it’s going out of fashion- not sure where they can put it. There is so much imbalance and inequality: so many people suffering silently; too much gluttony out there- music’s power and influence going under-the-radar. I am hoping to invent a site/charity that unites people and music: helps harness and augment its huge power and effect- help those in need and really make a huge difference. Aside from the music-helping-the-public-through-tough-times, there are a lot of musicians that need exposure, money and support- some great acts that deserve a lot more. I come across a load of terrific acts- there are so many more that struggle to gain fans- and it seems such a shame. My featured artist are creating some buzz and excitement: one of the U.K.’s best up-and-coming acts, there not only create original and embracing sounds- their music has the power to make some change; alter people’s perspectives and lives; inspire others to take up the art-form. I have said it quite a few times before- and am not loatyhed to repeat myself- but there are a lot of bands out there. In every town and city, there is a multitude of variety and quality; sounds that differ- every band have the same intention. In addition to making their mark, they want their music to stand out; really differ from what is around already- pull that rareist of tricks off. In the mainstream- and another point I have labored to the point of torture- is that apparent lack of variation and surprise. There are some great bands bustling in the undergrowth, but by and large, there are a lot of rather uninspired acts. When it comes to the north- Yorkshire in particular to my mind- there are some terrific bands coming out. The likes of Allusondrugs and Issimo have always been in my sights; lovelies like Crybabycry too- the county has a huge amount of choice. City of Lights are a new name to my radar- having been recommended by a good friend and fellow musician- and it is great to hear their stuff. Whilst embracing some semblance of other acts- there is a nice mixture of bygone Rock giants and a contemporary sprinkling- their overall sound and sensation is original and very much theirs- something the mainstream should well embrace given time. Before I continue on another point, let me introduce the band to you:
Matt Dunwell – Guitar & Vocals
Ash Howey – Bass Guitar
Alex Humphreys – Lead Guitar
Ben Freer – Drums
“Although City Of Lights are based in Leeds, the original seeds of the band were formed in Paris in April 2011, when Matt Dunwell (acoustic Guitar & Lead Vocals), inspired by the ever-present swirl of possibility floating throughout the French capital, decided to form a band. Collaborating with long-time song-writing conspirator Sean Howey (Ex Drums & Backing Vocals), the two formed City of Lights in the aim to create their own brand of honest rock-pop that would ignite and engage. When the duo pulled in Sean’s brother Ashley to play bass and handle backing vocals, the enterprising crew undertook over a year’s worth of rigorous rehearsals and shows throughout the UK to help shape their sound. In order to further complete the line-up, they drafted lead guitarist Alex Humphreys into the fold to become a 4 piece. With the departure of Sean and the introduction of Ben Freer to the drums in May ’14, City of Lights are a band that have fine-tuned their sound to remarkable proportions and are prised for laudable notoriety.
Meshing the song-writing aptitude of Biffy Clyro with the melodic mastery of UK big guns Snow Patrol and the heart and drive of Thrice, City Of Lights adeptly glide along the tight-rope of having an accessible sound with true longevity. After an initial series of successful shows, the band quickly assembled an army of fans, and word spread fast about the crafty Yorkshire tunesmiths.
Evidently, appearances at Reading & Leeds Festival ’13, various O2 Academy’s and UK and European tours have proven to the masses that the alt-rockers have truly created a sound that will quench the thirst of fans needing something solid, fresh, and inspiring from the rock genre.”
Next week I am focusing on the girls of music- an interview with a London-based singer; two reviews of two very different solo acts- but this weekend is reserved for the chaps. I am often skeptical when it comes to bands in general at the moment- less so the underground/unsigned variety- because I hear a lot of replication and banality. For every promising chorus you get an aimless and generic riff; a flat and un-emotive vocal- it just lacks that necessary kick and sense of ambition. I know music is a hard chestnut to crack but there is so much potential out there: play with the sounds and be adventurous; try something new and exciting- without compromising your integrity and musical ethics. Rock and Alternative bands get caught in limitations and boundaries: the assumption is they need to be rigid and overly-disciplined- if they were too freewheelin’ and genre-splicing it would leave them vulnerable to derision and a lack of respect. City of Lights are not your average Rock band: they employ classic and modern seams; thread together something very personal and passionate- songs that have resonated with a large audience. Their appeal is not just confined to the Yorkshire area: from London upwards, their fan-base is expanding and multiplying. It is not hard to see why the boys have earned such a hefty following. Their influences are varied- something I will touch on below- and names that can be app;lied to their sound. They do not just do anthemic and stadium-sized choruses: the tenderness and emotions come through; there are big and upbeat moments- they ensure they tick all the boxes. Reviewers have noted (how the band) seem to fill all the prospective checks: their music is not cynically designed or calculated; their natural intuitions and talent is all-encompassing and without prejudice- good enough to unite the hardened Rock clans and lovers of a softer kind of sound. The guys have quite a future ahead and it cannot be long until an E.P./album is dropped: they have the momentum and potential to craft something quite sensational. As 2015 draws to a close- and the nights and days get colder and darker- the band have signed-off in style- they are on the lips of many-a music-lover. With the scene showcasing so many new bands- and there is quite a spread of genres and options- the Leeds boys marry Alternative and Indie options with some U.S. Rock gods- it comes together with a natural and graceful manner.
The boys have not been idle or aimless since their formation. I have mooted the possibility of a future album, but the boys have already unveiled a couple- Live and Learn was released in March of last year. Being D.I.Y. and self-funded, the album is a labour love- you can hear the time and passion that has gone into it. Make sure you check it on iTunes and download it: it is an L.P. that has no filler or weak moments; it has a perfect blend and balance of emotions and ideas. The band underwent band change and rotation during 2014: their path and plight has not been easy or care-free. There are no anxieties and fears throughout Live and Learn: the album is a sparkler from the start to finish. Live and Learn’s title track has a soft and yearning introductory vocal: telling of a fragile world; one where we all live and learn- it erupts into life and goes through the gears. The composition is tight and taut; the performances are solid and stunning- the track chugs and propels. The musicianship throughout is inventive and impressive: little bass runs and drum fills; details and avenues- all contributing to a rich and deep sound. The entire album has a consistency and distinct sense of personality: each song tells a different tale; comes from a very personal perspective- shows just what strong songwriters the boys are.
The band’s debut album arrived in the form of Season’s Change: a ten-track record that saw them explode right out of the blocks. From the very first tracks- Was it All Worth It? and Did I Stutter– the band are alive and alert- making sure their album does not suffer from early nerves. Completely formed and alive, the songs jump right out of the speakers- grab the listener and ensure they are hooked-in and attentive. It is a tight and economical album that does not linger too long nor fade too quickly- its nuances mean you keep coming back to experience new moments. Like Live and Learn; Season’s Change has a great range of emotions and thoughts: they are skillful and stunning when talking about love and life’s struggles; effortless when rising to the heavens- the compositions here are vibrant and impassioned. Both albums have a rich variation and consistently brilliant performances: with each release the group increases in confidence and direction- becoming more assured with each passing moment.
With both albums, the boys come across original and very much fully-formed: there are elements of other bands and artist that present themselves. The two biggest stand-outs are Kings of Leon and Biffy Clyro. Both acts have stadium-sized songs and a stunning collection of songs. City of Lights mix three angular and emotive sounds of Biffy’- especially the sound that was rife on Opposites– the well-crafted songs and fusion of beauty and hard emotion. When Biffy Clyro released Opposites, critics noticed how it brought in ‘70s Rock elements; that tying-together of mainstream Pop sounds and Progressive-Rock ambitions. City of Lights have a similar ear for dichotomous and anthemic moments: there is bombast and crowd-uniting songs; plenty of tenderness and inward questioning- songs that are hugely ambitious and multifarious. Kings of Leon are more bombastic and Blues-Rock inspired: grittier and more hard-hitting than Biffy’, perhaps. The U.S. legends have produced some stunning albums and classic tracks- defined by their epic choruses and stunning band performances. City of Lights have a U.S. feel to their music- you can hear the grizzle of the Deep South and the street-pounding riffs of New York and L.A.- which blends seamlessly with their U.K. voice. Across their two albums, there is plenty of original voice and distinct ambition, yet a nod to their idols and heroes- all distilled in a heady and captivating blend. If you have not checked out Season’s Change and Live and Learn, then make sure you investigate them- get onto iTunes and discover just how great the band are. In terms of development, there is a leap from album-to-album: their sophomore release sounds more rounded and confident; more wide-ranging and varied- building on early promise and expanding their craft and sights. I know the boys fund their own albums and creations, so might be remiss to leap into another album- given the real costs and effort that goes into it. If they are released a new album next year, I am sure it will be a development from their previous two: keep that sense of pace and distinction alive; offer some new insights and stories for the listener.
When it comes to Here, Alive, there is much to recommend. The introduction is one of their most immediate and hard-hitting: pummeling out the blocks, it is an attacking and pulsating slam- one that gets the senses primed and the tongue salivating. Not just your predictable beat and attack, it is a springing and jiving thing; working with a luscious and emotive guitar line- it is a full-bodied and lusting beginning. Making sure that energy and promise does not fade, the band keep things focused and tight. The sharp and economical introduction ensures there is no wasted notes and aimless solos- just an exhilarating and energetic swagger. Reminding me of Foo Fighters and Kings of Leon it fuses U.S. Alternative with something very British and historic- elements of ‘70s Progressive-Rock thrown into the balance. Before a word is uttered, you are fixated by this bold and brash moment: something that does not define the song; instead it leads you in- makes you wonder what is to come. After some lighter strings and fine details- the introduction does not simply die down; it beautifully transitions into the vocal- the band is ready to go. Our hero does not mind if he gets out of here (wherever that may be) alive: there seems to be a lot of fear and uncertainty- although the vocal shows no signs of weakness and trepidation. The lead can find his way; get out of the situation and make his way to safety- your speculative mind starts to conspire and picture. Perhaps a life situation- feeling tied-down and trapped; maybe a love scenario- there seems to be a been-there-seen-it-escaped-that mentality- one that seems almost routine. If the vocals and lyrics suggest calm and casual danger, the composition does not share those feelings- it remains primitive and wired in its jagged support. Contrasting the smooth and emphatic vocal (it has soulful touches and a great sense of drama) the band presents something forceful and hard- although it does not encroach too strongly nor put too much acid into the mix. It is hard to really dig into true meanings and decipher the mystery: there seems to be a love-against-the-odds story unfolding; our hero and his girl trying to get away from things- make their way from a bad situation. In the early stages, that composition-and-vocal combination puts you in mind of Alternative and U.S. Rock bands- it has a Californian feel; something that could easily slide into the mainstream roster. Perhaps it is my ears, yet the band summons something between Foo Fighters and Biffy Clyro: the composition is uplifting and ecstatic; it is fast and primitive- plenty of calmer underpinnings and more casual moments. Having been buoyed and propelled by that introduction; compelled by the early words and vocal strength- the band keeps you guessing and fascinated. Now that “I’ve made it out of here alive”- so the hero and front-man accounts- he is pressing on and looking ahead. Those words of death and narrow escape add urgency and momentum to the track: that central force and villain (whether a person or a state of affairs) remains anonymous and pressing- the past is definitely out of sight. It seems the past is an unwelcome thing; days and months that caused stress and heartache- now is a better and more prosperous time. It seems clear a love and romance is being ascribed: our lead seems suitably infatuated and appreciative- this girl has saved him from a black fate it seems. That love-as-a-new-beginning metaphor is played well and effectively: the lyrics have been done before- the same sort of tale and projection- yet City of Lights give their own spin and fresh perspective- ensuring they do not succumb to cliché and predictability. The duo is far from home: away from the crowds and voices, they are in strange territory- nobody knows who they are. You get a real feel of journey and transition throughout the song- in no small part because of that intoxicating and persistent composition- and the hero is keen to run from the bad days. Whether he knows where he is going- I think there is that necessity to just flee the misery and suffocation- there is determination and some hope. Here, Alive never relents its rushing and determined plight: the percussion keeps smashing and driving; the bass and guitars weave something anxious and punishing- the vocal remains enflamed and lascivious. On that front, the vocal does not put you in mind of Foo Fighters, Kings of Leon and their ilk- it is very much a unique and stand-alone sound; you would not easily imagine another singer (with regards its origin and feel). Making sure words resonate and succeed, the vocal is not too rushed or indecipherable- it allows the lines and sentiments to breathe. Waiting for the “sun to come up” the fleeing lovers are in the uncertainty of the city: among the unfamiliar faces and strange places, they are seeking daylight and clarity. To underpin this- and at that moment of the song- the band break into soloing territory. The vocal relents to allow the composition to develop and flourish: you get myriad scenes and ideas; a great and tight jam- that adds a weight of drama and occasion to proceedings. That composition break keeps stretching and mutating: twisting and snaking; racing and exciting- you are caught in its trance and uncompromising power. Having absorbed the story so far- where you feel the sweethearts have their backs against the wall- the composition provides chance to reflect and breathe. Perhaps adding to that uncertainty and dangerous element, you can imagine your own turn of events- just where they are headed and how they are faring. To my mind, I see them hovelled in a doorway; against the suppression and tyranny of the elements, they are in each other’s arms- seeking a salvation and chance for redemption. What they have come from- a community and people they couldn’t stand; a town that was harsh and foreign- they are gambling and throwing caution to the wind. With some wordless chorusing- the band unison in voice- there is that semblance of defiance and strength. Not one to be defeated and defined, our hero is away from home; not sure what is coming next- determined to find his way to safety. The final moments see the song conclude and end: you are not sure whether there is a safe resolution- whether the lovers made it to a better place; found somewhere more tranquil and pleasant.
A natural development and step forward from their earliest work, City of Lights have produced something both traditional and original- a song that can only be theirs yet instilled with flecks of others acts. Whilst they wear their influences on their sleeves, they do not just sling together a Foo-Leon-Clyro thing; assume the public will buy it- take a cheap and easy way out. Instead, they borrow little shades and colours of each; the emotions and stadium-filling grandeur- and reinvent it for their own justifications. Alive, Here is as a staunch and intriguing as its title: the deathly tangle and swimming-against-the-tide struggle never abates and relents. Although the song’s ideas have been explored before- escaping a harsh world with a love; migrating to a safer place- City of Lights ensure they document something free of formulaic riffs and tossed-off lyrics. Everything is kept sharp and economical; their energy and tightness is infectious and impressive- a band that have a clear intuition and sense of role. Each player backs the others; the vocal supports the composition- everything is entwined and natural. The production values are quite polished- not in a bad way though- which means the song has a contemporary shine and a made-for-radio sound- something that could well see the boys progress to the mainstream soon. Matt Dunwell’s lead vocal presents the song with the utmost consideration for emotion and meaning: he does not over-emote or sound insincere; his voice sounds completely dedicated to the material at hand- portraying the subjects/words with consideration and intelligence. A powerful and agile singer, he is compelling and heightened throughout: capable of coming down low and emoting; sky-scarping and dramatic when the mood calls. Combining with Alex Humphrey’s guitar, the two whip-up a huge amount of potency and avalanche: ensure the song has grit and persistence from the first to last notes. Humphreys himself ensures he makes his voice heard: his guitar remains sharp and impressive throughout; weaving plenty of colour and nuance into the track, he marks himself as one of the scene’s most impressive axe-wielders. Ash Howey lets his bass guide and glide: it has rhythm and melody; it has strength and snaking sting- driving the song forward whilst presenting its own authority and charm. Usually in songs- especially big, sweeping dramas- the bass does not get a great opportunity to shine- the guitars and percussion usually take care of that. Here, there is democracy and equality: that bass can be heard making its mark; shaping its own direction- adding a huge amount to Alive, Here. Ben Freer showcases his strong and pummeling percussive chops: making sure the track always remains gripping and dramatic; he displays a huge amount of technique and strength. Acting as the band/song’s aching heart, the drums are hugely important and central- at times they almost take the limelight; perfectly sparring with the lead vocal. Not only blending with his bandmates, what you get is a player with a big future- another musician with a superb skill and identity. Together the band unleashes one of their most instant and compelling songs: something that could score festival sets and stadium evenings- a song that will mark itself as a live favourite. Uniting their past work with future potential, City of Lights sounds completely bracing and brilliant throughout- something few of their contemporaries achieve.
Here, Alive is a song that not only defines the band- and is an apt shout-out to the music industry- but a sign of where they could head. Not your average and predictable number; the song is catchy and nuanced; it has a cracking vocal and brilliant band performance- a track that compels you to repeat until exhausted. It would be great to see where the band head next- whether there is an album due in 2016. The music industry is an expensive and demanding thing: the process of recording an album (or E.P.) is quite a difficult thing- the boys should consider it, mind. With their fan numbers growing- and that demand rising by the week- there is a market and audience waiting for them. With Kickstarter providing a good option, it would be worth getting their head down- seeing just what they can come up with next year. Having already rocked and seduced Reading and Leeds in 2013, the guys have grown in confidence and ambition- surely a good time to get those creative juices onto record? Perhaps they are a step ahead- and really training their mind that way- but I know a lot of people cannot wait for that day (an album drops). In a world of ropey bands and some forgettable examples, it is great to hear a young group that has legs: they have longevity appeal and a real sense of where they want to head. It is true there are bands that play similar sounds- they have one or two close peers to watch out for- but that is no trouble- they are distinct and passionate enough to share market space with the best of them. I am going to conclude by looking at the band/music market in general- wrapping up with a word on Yorkshire music. A lot of our perceptions and judgments about the music world stem from the mainstream: in terms of sounds and tastes, the media focuses heavily here. There is a busy and huge underground market; yet critical minds pull us to the already-established and legendary acts- the new releases from people we are familiar with already. With so much focus being set here, new bands are looking at reviews and charts; the festival line-ups and harking to their record collection- maybe trying to find a magic formula. There is no shame in being inspired by bands and acts; bringing some of their sound into the fray- so long as the overall impression has some original touches. The trouble is, the new and fresh bands should be looking more at themselves. Whilst a lot of music- from new bands and upcoming acts- can be generic and familiar, the lyrics and vocals should really not sound like anyone else. I find too many acts that mimic others and sound like a knock-off: if you show too much fear and a lack of imagination, you are not going to last long. City of Lights have a love of Biffy Clyro and Coldplay; they like Kings of Leon- their backing and music has a lot touch of each. When it comes to the overall sound- the vocals and lyrics particularly- they ensure they do not hang onto coattails. The riffs and choruses are familiar yet imbued with a hefty weight of their own; the vocal are hard to compare with anyone else- the band is making leaps to separate themselves from the pack. When it comes to remaining in the public focus, it is vital to get this right- and ensures you are your own band; do not simply repeat another band’s sound. In anything, it would be nice to see the boys really spread their wings: with their love of hard-cum-acoustic mixes, they have the potential to paint a rather broad spectrum of songs. They seem effortless when it comes to the arena-focused songs- those big and epic numbers- but are adept at taking the mood down when called for- and proving they have plenty of heart and soul. I have hopes and high expectations for the band: the signs are all good and they have a real flair and adventure. I am sure they have plans and ideas for the next year, so keep your eyes locked in their direction. Yorkshire is showing how good their musicians really are: a county that always brings the good; it seems like there’s an inexhaustible army of indefatigable and brilliant musicians- there must be something in the air! Until now, the City of Lights boys have been confined to Yorkshire and the north: it can only be a matter of time before they make their way across the globe. Having been formed in Paris- as their name suggests- it would be good to see them play France; maybe take a few dates in Europe- head across to the U.S. This all depends on finance and demand- it is an expensive business gigging across the globe- but who’s to say it will not happen? With their members primed and eager; their songs stunning and popular, I predict a prosperous next few years- that will see the collective taking their brand around the world. For the moment, we have Here, Alive and all it offers: a song that sets out their stall and what potential they have- make sure you keep offering support and spread their music around. I am pleased to discover a band that have genuine direction and passion- there are too many that lack that necessary spark and sense of life- so City of Lights should be respected and applauded. Find yourself some time, sit back and embrace a band that differs from the run-of-the-mill examples out there. Here, Alive is a song that rings with truth and resonance: it is a track that digs deep and hits all the emotional marks- a song that can beat away the autumn blues. With 2015 providing so few genuine band wonders, it is great to witness City of Lights…
A group who will be around for years to come.
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