ALBUM REVIEW: City and Colour – A Pill for Loneliness

9/10

City and Colour - A Pill for Loneliness

Dallas Green, Canadian singer/songwriter and founder of the musical entity City and Colour have once again delivered a brilliant new album, “A Pill for Loneliness”. The band’s sixth release is the follow up to their inspired 2015 recording “If I Should Go Before You”. The new release harkens back to Green’s early days when City and Colour were best described as Green and his guitar in a recording studio. City and Colour now features a fleshed-out band line up that gives Green’s songwriting an expanded palette. “A Pill for Loneliness” features seemingly effortless vocals and lyrics that examine the conclusions Green has drawn about romantic dysfunction and emotional isolation. He also reemphasizes his impatience with the state of mankind and our current societal confusion.

Returning to the mixing board for City and Colour is three-time Grammy winner Jacquire King. On “A Pill for Loneliness” he successfully combined the elements that make Green such a compelling performer and songwriter with insightful instrumentals to come up with an evocative and engaging offering. Green has described this collection of songs as such, “I wrote a lot of dark songs and wrapped them up in the most beautiful sounds we could find, these are personal considerations but they are also relatable.” Topically Green continues to examine the conflicts of pursuing a career that makes for an erratic life and results in spending too much time away from loved ones. A theme he has returned to often and expressed so evocatively in prior works like “Hello I’m In Delaware” off of “Sometimes”. There is always an ache at the centre of Dallas Green’s songs, a palpable yearning to be a better person living in a better world. This ethos once again informs the tracks on the new release. But make no mistake there are always enough points of light and ebullient guitar work to keep this and City and Colour’s prior efforts from wallowing in self-doubt and pity.

“A Pill for Loneliness” opens with “Living in Lightning” where emphatic drums and glimmering guitars support Green’s reasoning that living with one’s conscious is the hardest thing to do, you can fool everyone but yourself. Additionally, a reoccurring underlying theme will be that of independent thought, on this track, the lyric “I’d rather be alone than stand in a row” brilliantly conveys the idea. The selection “Astronaut” begins with a minimal feeling and then shifts into a mid-tempo guitar piece. Green paints an image of an individual captured in a self-contained bubble, akin to an astronaut, and questions if this bubble creates independence or isolation. On the track, he attempts to square his wanderlust with his desire to be with his family and his realization that he often chooses to roam over remaining with his loved ones. An excellent band jam ushers this selection to a close.

The first two selections are introspective and brooding in scope but “Imagination” lets loose a bouncy piano/guitar arrangement. The expansive vocals showcase Green’s esteemed vocal chops with a track that is loaded with anathematic uplift. Once again the topics of non-conformity and fearlessly challenging conventions appear. “Difficult Love” displays a band with a serious musical mastery that allows Green to go where he wills topically and vocally. This selection utilizes contrasting sonics to produce a swirling ethereal mid-tempo ballad. As per the title the song addresses Green’s belief that the hardest relationships to maintain are also the ones most worth the effort. Green suggests that dedication and patience will lead to even the most difficult love working out. Layered vocals are an effective technique on “Me and Moonlight” a brief minimal track that finds Green at a crossroads torn between the desire to be alone and the need to be around others. The accompaniment works as the perfect foundation for this moving selection.

The next portion of songs is best characterized as socially conscious offerings. “Mountain of Madness” along with “Song of Unrest” condemn the clamour of our age which blocks us from the truth and beauty that surrounds us. Each song points out the commonality of mankind and mourns for how obsessed we have become with our minor differences. Green points out we each travel a path filled with challenges and questions why we insist upon adding to the suffering of others. “Strangers” is more strident musically but continues the thread of looking beyond ourselves to walk a moment in other’s shoes and gain understanding and tolerance. Green movingly captures the torment of our society with the lyric “We look to the heavens for advice on our lives, searching for God and at the bottom of bottles, in a stranger’s eyes; we’re living in desperation drowning in medication.” This counterintuitive rocker is a type of lyrical masterclass and the high point of the album.

“The War Years” takes the tempo down a notch with a stream of consciousness examination of society and conflict. This is conveyed with a dreamy gossamer-like sonic and gorgeous layered vocals that are reminiscent of the peak Tears for Fears work “The Hurting”. Here as throughout much of the album, Green identifies the conflicts that abound in our society while attempting to figure out why we give each other such hell.

“Young Lovers” utilizes what could be characterized as Green’s proprietary musical signature, an awesome guitar lick and his alluring, clean vocals. Thematically he uses religious imagery to attack the puppet masters pulling the strings; using images of kings sending the children into a losing crusade while they remain in their palaces of sin. “Young Lovers” is the “must listen” of the deep tracks on the release. The closer “Lay Me Down” mirrors the familiar childhood prayer to convey the emotions of our worn and weary psyches, “Lay me down I’ve had enough.” With the use of a melancholy piano, Green brings all the threads of the album together into a final culminating exclamation point. He espouses individuality, maintaining one’s resolve and the idea that the “strong” must help the weaker among us through the trials and tribulations of life. It is an apt and luminous ending to the gripping album.

Dallas Green with City and Colour has always had the knack of chronicling mankind’s maladies. He is crystal clear on what he believes the causes are, yet holds out eternal hope we can change. Green along with his bandmates is a brilliant master at marrying rock sonics with unblinking introspection and not coming off preachy. After six studio releases, he appears to be performing at the peak of his songwriting powers. Green has established his distinctive style while being unafraid to tinker and experiment; this results in each release sounding fresh and original. “A Pill for Loneliness” finds Green at a crossroads but also displays a bandleader who has the resolve to take the more difficult path if necessary. Thankfully he never shirks from taking the listener along with him as he discovers the truth and that’s what makes any album he releases so brilliant.

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