railcars “cities vs. submarines”

cities vs. submarines
(Gold Robot Records, 2008)

The debut EP by railcars sounds like it could have been recorded in Jamie Stewart’s kitchen. Imagine Jamie Stewart’s kitchen! He’s both a brilliantly bonkers aesthete and a multi-media extravaganzist whose principal outfit, Xiu Xiu, is practically a genre unto itself. Anyway, I envision Jamie Stewart’s kitchen containing things like a neon green, clay stove and talking cookie jars he designed himself. (– Ed. note: It’s probably normal as hell.) Full disclosure: cities vs. submarines was actually recorded in said kitchen and includes all the smash and grab you’d think that might entail.

Employing drum boxes, effects pedals, sketchy noise and distorted vocalisms, cities vs. submarines is primarily a cover for Aria C. Jalali, who likes his letters lowercase and his song structures non-linear. His EP isn’t noise per se, but it was still recorded in Jamie Stewart’s frickin’ kitchen. Even the linoleum has stories! Jalali used to perform under his own name; the live edition of railcars incorporates various helps from assorted besties, but the general thrust belongs to Jalali. Besides the debt owed to Stewart/Xiu Xiu, railcars cops from other sonic semi-radicalists like the Spencer Krug Affair, my own sobriquet to cover Wolf Parade/Swan Lake/Sunset Rubdown/whatever other band he might be in. When he brings his A-game Krug produces music that can shut down your central nervous system. There isn’t anything as totally arresting as that on cities vs. submarines, but Jalali is at least reasonably good at burying his hooks. That may sound as no-good a tactic as burying the lead or as redundant as the term “freak-folk”, but there’s something to be said for subtlety and for the joy of repeated listening.

Track 1, “there is ice; it is blue”, despite reminding me of that idiotic “Violet Hill” lyric about the white snow, is railcars’ strongest Sunset Rubdown credential. It’s got the choppy back beat, hand claps, and air-raid guitar that Krug put to such mad use on “Shut Up I Am Dreaming”. Next is “saints are waiting for me (outside my door)” which is essentially Jalali ‘luving the valley-oh!’. “concrete buildings” gallops off thinking it wants to be a Frog Eyes cut. “through the trees lay smokestacks” is an under a minute instrumenta-lude that inexplicably contains a lot of wolf-like yelping. cities vs. submarines ends with its best song “bohemia is without a sea”. If a song can safely be said to chortle, this one does. It’s so cheerful you can practically see the cookie jars dancing.

On cities vs. submarines Jalali hits and misses, but the hits are when you tear up the cheap, snaggy, loud carpeting and discover a pretty rad hardwood floor. To put it another way, it’s like with the best electronic music; how bells, whistles, bottles, and bedsteads on top of songs create diversions that only the impatient get lost on. You have to dig a little. You might be thinking I like cities vs. submarines more than I do; railcars has a ways to go. Then again, it’s only a ten-minute EP.

– Anthony Strain



8 responses to “railcars “cities vs. submarines”

  1. thanks for the review, it is very nice of you. agreed with a lot of the points, although i have to say some of these observances are a little strange. like saints are waiting vs i love the valley? i really dont see 1% similarity between those two songs, and i would challenge any reader to listen to both back to back and find a similarity in … i dont even know, tempo? key/chords/ progression/aesthetic, lyrical style / vocal melody/style, etcetc. i could have picked 30 other songs by other bands that are closer to my song, if i wanted to make the case of plagiarism.

    i mean if the claim is the album is derivative and contrived, thats one thing, and i’d be more than happy to point you to the bands i was listening to while making it, but i think you sorta picked the wrong ones.

    sunset rubdown/spencer krug? way off, i wouldnt even put them in the same genre. unless i havent heard enough their music, i dont recall anything involving electronics, drum boxes, 8 bit atari synths, or noise in anything he’s done. i could be dead wrong, but the point is i really wouldnt know.

    that being said, thanks again. it’s good to see a site dedicated to making sure everyone is reviewed.

    also, you’re right – jamie’s kitchen is beyond normal. i could confuse it with my grandmother’s.

  2. Thanks for the feedback, Aria! We encourage all readers to listen to the music on this website despite the reviewers’ opinion. The fact alone that it’s reviewed here means they are serious musicians doing their best to be heard. We hope you continue to record more music and let us hear it! Thanks again.

  3. thanks for reading aria! i like to write as sort of an outsider (i don’t consider myself a music nerd at all, in other words) without the usual rock-crit apocrypha–which is to say i try to employ sort of a narrative without just a slew of references, which would explain the (deliberately) over-the-top description of J.S’s kitchen. that being said, your record has several subtle similarities to ‘Shut Up I Am Dreaming’, which isn’t to make the case that it’s derivative. and i wasn’t literally comparing ‘saints’ to ‘i luv the valley’; it’s more that they sort of share the same mood than that they’re alike sonically. i guess mood is relative, but it’s something i try to stress more than the usual. anyway, discussion’s fantastic, and please keep making music!

  4. ahh! i see, i’m sorry. i think i misread where you said the “cvs is a cover.” i thought the thesis then became it was a “cover” album (satirically.) well from that viewpoint then, i would completely agree with the similarities etc! i’ve got to train myself to stop listening so technically. it’s such a curse, you can hardly stop to enjoy a song without trying to figure out how the guy is making that sound or whats where in the mix.
    thanks again

  5. you shouldn’t judge aria so harshly, he’s a great dude, didn’t you hear he’s taking pigeons or panthers to europe?

  6. We weren’t judging Aria as a person! Though maybe we could start a new website.


    Consider that a copyright.

  7. i found this album absolutely excellent. sure it was weird but it got me humming/dancing/singing/whistling, etc and thats all that really matters, right?

  8. I love this EP, and was so impressed by it I gave it 10/10 on my website, Einstein Music Journal! If only I had backed up my reviews, I wouldn’t have one day tragically lost my favourite review I ever wrote :( Cities vs. Submarines is incredibly intelligent and thoughtful, I love it to pieces.

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