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