The City Remains is a collaborative project between Liam Kirkpatrick and Paul McCallister based in London and Dublin. Kirkpatrick wrote these compositions “…during a time of travel, change and upheaval.” Like David Bowie’s Alladin Sane, each of the ten songs here are tethered to a different city: London, Dublin, New Orleans, New York, Buenos Aires, Berlin and Washington. Kirkpatrick and McCallister pose the musical question: “If a city's buildings could talk, what would they say? What stories would they tell?”
Most instruments were played by Kirkpatrick and McCallister with recording and engineering by Frank McGing at Asheville Studio. I never thought I’d get to write this, but mastering was performed by Steve Rooke at… Abbey Road Studios! (Need I mention another group that worked there?) The sound of the album is clean and jangly, with especially nice clarity on the vocals.
My first impression is that these songs were accessible and very much of a piece with each other. I did feel that they were perhaps too homogenous, but that often passes with more familiarity. I’d categorize these tunes as gentle folk rock tinged with melancholy with more than a touch of Irish traditional in the arrangements.
“Dream When You’re Blue” starts us off with jangly electric guitars and spot-on vocal harmonies. It’s a somewhat sad tune with an upbeat conclusion: “I try my best but sometimes life isn’t enough / No matter the good intentions / no matter how much you love… dream, dream, dream when you’re blue.” Though a nice tune, the boys rely a bit heavily on the main riff, which never seems to go away and becomes a little annoying by the end.
“How Far Did You Fall” has a rich, ’70s folk rock feel with lots of stringed instruments locked into circular melodies. “Buenos Aires” slows things down with lead vocals that aren’t afraid to show a bit of strain, and are thus quite effective. “Echoes” feels more intimate with close up vocals and gently picked acoustic guitar. “These are the echoes of a different time / these are the echoes of a different kind of life.” The instruments build slowly to nice effect. I get the impression that the album’s theme is mostly contained within this song.
“The City Remains” starts out quietly like a James Taylor acoustic tune; I seem to connect with these guys the less they fill up their tracks, and this one is stark, simple and lovely. “Time moves on and people change / but one thing’s for certain / the city remains.” Additional guitar here is credited to Enda Breslin. Album highlight! “Everything Is New” returns to jangly pop with nicely complex chorus harmonies.
“Trophies” is another acoustic and vocal tune about intimacy: both the emotional AND the bedroom kind. The twist ending where the narrator’s woman “lies with another trophy in your bed” is a little obvious, but I get the pain. There’s a great transition to the next song “Ring Hollow” which has a Fripp-like fuzz guitar pad and another really nice vocal arrangement.
“Last Thoughts” are indeed that, with some of the cleanest vocals yet. Kirkpatrick’s sentiments are not earth-shattering but they’re definitely universal: “Did you find someone to love? / Did you find someone to trust? / Well it sure wasn’t me.” The boys deliver a tasteful arrangement and mix to take us home.
There’s some very nice songs here, and a couple that weren’t my cup of tea. Next time around perhaps the boys might try upsetting the apple cart of their chosen style now and then just to see what happens, but until then this collection will do quite nicely.
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