Dallas Green, the man behind City and Colour, can quite fairly be called an old hand now, having been cracking out albums for 15 years under this moniker – a name so ferociously ‘indie-folk’ that one would be surprised to learn that it is actually just a play on his real name; Dallas is a city and Green is a colour, for those of you playing along at home. From this decade and a half, the following becomes clear; Dallas Green is a sad man who loves folk music and can pen a decent hook. For the long-standing fans of City and Colour, there is no need to fear; this formula is as strong as ever. Others of us, though, may need a little more persuading.
City and Colour is unashamedly parent to countless gloomy anthems. Such material can be nigh-on irresistible, if done tastefully, but neglect to do so, can leave quite the sour taste in one’s mouth. Lyrically, ‘A Pill for Loneliness’ falls somewhere between these extremes. Hope is ever-present, although at times buried beneath layers of anguished guitar, since, as the title suggests, the focus is more on curing, rather than wallowing in, feelings of loneliness. But one can’t talk about chemotherapy without talking about cancer, and so we must prepare ourselves for at least a bit of bitterness. This dynamic is evident from the very first song, ‘Living in Lightning,’ in which Green cathartically rejoices “I’m still breathing in my youth” – a cry of proud resilience – but later bemoans “can’t you see I’m sorry that I wasn’t better at being who you wanted me to be?” A simple apology isn’t sufficient; he is intent on portraying his partner as controlling, while he ploughs the ‘noble course’ of trying his best to change himself to please another. Perhaps I’m being too harsh, but there are lyrical moments such as this that give you pause. This is, though, but a minor blip on a thoughtful and refreshingly genuine collection of songs and I would in no way wish to condemn one for speaking with transparency and sincerity.
Musically, the album is strong, if a little dated. Of the writing process, Green said, “I wrote a lot of dark songs and wrapped them in the most beautiful sounds we could find.” Perhaps “most beautiful sounds we could find in the indie singer-songwriter handbook 101,” would have been a better description, but it cannot be denied that, with a mellow warmth hugging these songs tightly, the album is one of immense sonic beauty. Green has a strong and versatile voice; his smooth, soft tones so ably convey the dolorous heartache of his lyrics. Perhaps even more impressive for an album so leisurely paced is that his melodies are sticky and will surely ignite mass singalongs during the accompanying tour. The album has a full and glossy texture; distant caresses of synth temper the melancholic lyrics, making the pill for loneliness all the more easy to swallow.
‘Astronaut’ is a definite highlight. I’d never have expected to hear such a direct or rousing rallying-cry for the art of going with the flow; the song is resplendent with throbbing baselines, sticky melodies and gritty guitars. This ode to nomadism, however, does eventually proceed to evolve into a spacey, abstract jam, mimetic of its message, unbound to the rigid confinement of rhythm, and given to the wind of noisy ambience. ‘Mountain of Madness’ is a more understated high-point. Here, slow, ponderous drums drag out the weary, miserable vocals. Green’s voice is the focus, but a groovy baseline and a powerful guitar solo – exciting, but still in keeping with the track’s deliberate pacing – keep it from becoming tedious.
To conclude, because of the rather limited musical palette, the record is not quite good enough to warrant its 53-minute runtime, especially since many of the songs do crawl at a glacial pace. Overall though, it is, at the very least, pleasant, and I can easily see myself revisiting some of these tracks in the future.