Review: These City Limits – The Modern Standard (2012)

One of the perks (if not THE only perk) of reviewing albums is getting a free copy of a record before anyone else.  In this case, Indiana’s These City Limits sent me their new EP before they even have a label to release it.  It’s definitely a privilege, but I also felt a strange pressure just hoping that I would like it and not feel the need to say something negative.  The good news for These City Limits is that my opinion of music isn’t shared by many.  The bad news is that the self-induced pressure was relieved immediately.

The Modern Standard begins with a Muse-like piano intro that is met quickly with vocals that are very reminiscent of Casey Crescenzo of The Dear Hunter.  The song slowly builds with the addition of even more Muse influenced keyboards and then bursts open with buzzsaw guitars, hard hitting drums, and background screaming while maintaining the slow and eerie pace with which the song opened.  Even though “Gather” is the only track on the EP that sounds like this, it definitely sets up the rest of the record as a prog-y pop rock release with some metal leanings.

“Empty Hands” accelerates things and gallops along as the fastest song on the record including a Dragonforce style power metal solo during the bridge. It is on this track that the pop formula of “verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus” is introduced and is a format that will be followed fairly closely on the EP from here on.  This doesn’t mean that These City Limits are boring or unoriginal.  They’re more like rebels stealthily infiltrating pop music.  The next three songs are what I call the “meat” of the EP.  They are the more pop paced songs with the catchy choruses.  However, the title track is quite the contrary to anything pop with lyrics like “Blue eyes and blond hair were a false sign of purity.  Nazi’s are reborn again and recruit through magazines.”  The bridge, and over all theme, of the song do have a Marilyn Manson kind of vibe.

“A Different Shade of Red” seems to tackle guitarist/vocalist Randy Vanderbilt’s musical past.  Randy was the guitarist (and, at the beginning, drummer) of the metalcore band Scarlet.  He sings “I still bleed red, but its shade is turning bright.”  The lyrics of the song seem to struggle between leaving the past behind, but at the same time attempting not to ignore or discredit it.  The following song is my favorite of the “meat” of the EP even though I’m not a fan of the opening riff.  Perhaps it’s the Campari of the track that just makes everything after taste that much more delicious.  Definitely the catchiest of all the choruses as I found myself singing along to it even before I read the lyrics.  The closing track has the same kind of uplifting feeling Axl Rose wanted Appetite… to end with on “Rocket Queen.”  Wasn’t he from Indiana, too?

The Modern Standard was recorded by fellow Scarlet alumni, Andreas Magnusson, who handled a majority of Scarlet’s recordings, as well.  Since Andreas is a drummer himself, the drums on the EP are noticeably crisp and tight, and just like some of his past recording work, the EP has the Magnusson stamp of an ever so slight hint of electronic static throughout.  Quite frankly, the production is flawless.

Since I am more of a dark and dreary music fan, The Modern Standard kind of blew its load with me on the first track.  However, this record is catchy, it’s well thought out and finely crafted with precision musicianship, and even the track order makes perfect sense.  The Modern Standard makes it acceptable for metal fans to like pop music and for pop fans to experience the dark side.

These City Limits
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Rating: 8.3/10

Thoughts?