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Album Review: City Rain – Montage

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Imagine the ocean. In and out with great purpose, waves crash against the shore. The ebb and flow of the ocean changes in strength with the tides, growing large when the time is right, but easing back into its smaller yet confident motions in other moments. Farther out, the sun shines brightly overhead, reflecting against the waters with great sparkle and awe.

The growth in City Rain’s latest EP Montage resembles the progression of ocean tides in its musicality. Ben Runyan’s experimentation with synthesizers is ambitious, but the payoff is large. Montage’s biggest wonder is “Big Boys Do Cry”, a six-minute aural blast of whispers and crescendos that are just as affecting as the cries of Runyan as he sings, “Goddamnit, big boys do cry” before the simultaneous crashing of layered synths. In and out with volume and variety, City Rain gives listeners a real surf to ride.

With the help of guitarist Jarrett Zerrer, City Rain carries a formidable artillery of instruments at their expense for Montage, giving the record its tide-like appeal. The keyboards breathe life into “Heart’s On Fire”. As the piano sounds tickle the track, Runyan croons about resolve and resolution after reflecting upon what went awry when he was younger. Twinkly yet poignant, the record provides us a guilt-free synth-pop package of such experimental songs.

Lyrically, City Rain delivers stories about life’s realizations as men beyond their teenage years, where they’ve learned about the pains of growing up. Knowing what we know now about electronic dance music, it’s sometimes hard to take City Rain’s lyrical compositions seriously, especially when Runyan’s vocals are so distorted. Rarely is synth-pop and electronic rock associated with meaningful lyrical content because they’re preconceived as bouncy and buoyant. It’s a challenge to use these genres as a means of conveying something more personal, but it’s commendable that City Rain tries to ease us into the more touching, human capabilities of electronic music.

Montage is smart electronic music. With the current frenzy of artists who hugely depend on machines and computer programs, City Rain doesn’t succumb to the regularity and tedium that often plagues bands that follow trends. Together, Runyan and Zerer are a powerful duo because at the core, they are an experimental pair. Their instruments — the synthesizers, the distortion, and the sound effects — are merely tools to make great waves, but the water with which to make an ocean exists because City Rain has worthwhile stories to tell.

Essential Tracks: “Big Boys Do Cry”, “No Problems”

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