Crystal City is a power pop, Americana duo, based around the effortless vocal harmonies of Dave Helmer and Sam Drella. Crystal City cites artists as diverse as Mazzy Star, The Replacements, The Breeders, Cracker and Solo Asylum as influences. When taken in conjunction with the fact that the band takes their name from a line of Gram Parsons, a blueprint for their album Change begins to emerge - up-tempo rockers give way to unadorned bittersweet country, and back again. Of course, we all know, for every Paul Westerberg or Bruce Springsteen, there are a million uninspired hacks. Often times, folk/power pop is just pop music, sucked of its fidelity and budget.
This is absolutely not the case with Crystal City.
As an allegory, consider the fact that Helmer moved to Red Wing, Minnesota where he studied guitar building and repair, while Drella studied jewelery manufacturing. Helmer regularly performs on homemade, hand-built guitars, with custom brass bridge pins built by Drella. Their heartfelt, country-infused jammers are imbued with the same level of quality, craft, and care.
Crystal City describes themselves as a band that "really loves good pop music and wanna rock. The "don't bore us get to the chorus" road is where we try to cruise through with some heartland rock tacked on the end." This is an oversimplification, as it is in these by-ways through their songs where the band emerges from the fog, shows their heart, their taste. Like the wildly restrained guitar solo of "Little Italy" or the intricacy of the acoustic guitar picking of "Where The Treasure Is.” Crystal City do in one minute what takes other bands ten. This restraint means that if you blink, you might miss the glory that is all over Change. That would be a major loss.
Helmer and Drella formed a relationship as a result of playing music together, which makes their music even tighter and more intimate than it already was, imbuing it with heart, passion and authenticity. Crystal City is a combination of the two of them, with Helmer seemingly the Paul Westerberg efficient rocker, and Drella is the slow core dreamy country chanteuse, and Change fluctuates between the two poles. This means you don't get burned out from the adrenaline rush of the rockers and you don't get bummed out from the slow-burners.
Then there are moments that don't fall into either of these camps, which show that Crystal City is not a nostalgia revival act. This can be seen, most notably, on "Tangled Down,” devoid of percussion and a cloud of chorused guitars, while Drella's lead vocals sound straight out of a 1920s night club. This crystalline torch song shows Crystal City is capable of anything. It's a stunning, beautiful song, hinting at the depths and possibilities of Crystal City and their future.
The way Change is mixed says everything about Crystal City, and why they deserve to be raised above almost all other artists working in the pop realm. The recordings are sharp and clear, while still being warm and mellow and swathed in realistic reverb. They are offering something, making themselves available, without screaming for your attention. It's like they know they have something special, and are sharing it with the world. They don't feign at pretense, no snake oil to sell. This is the real deal, the genuine article.
For fans of Gram Parsons’ and Emmylou Harris’ close harmonies; hushed heartfelt folk-inflected outfits like Mojave 3 or M. Ward; and barebones efficient rockers like The Replacements, prepare to get obsessed.
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