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May 28th 2014

Rockin' with City of Women

It’s hard to be a rock band in the 21st century.  If you sound too much like classic rock dinosaurs, you’ll be flippantly written off as a bad cliché, a tribute act to prehistoric times.  If you can somehow balance retro riffs with a modern edge, a hip self-awareness that shields one from lazy censure, then you’re probably Jack White.

City of Women is not Jack White nor one of his thousand or so side projects.  That’s something you probably already knew about the band.  What you don’t know, however, is that the band balances that precarious tightrope of nostalgia and ‘now,’ incorporating unabashedly old-school style riffs and scintillating guitar solos from a bygone era with a decidedly millennial sensibility.  These guys aren’t merely trying to sound like ‘70s rock gods, the pitfall of too many groups preceding them, but are forging their own unique sonic personality, blending bass-driven dance grooves, dynamic, almost jarring, tempo shifts and proudly bombastic guitar heroics into one surprisingly coherent creation.  Covering the spectrum, City of Women incorporates everything from psychedelic freak-outs to prog breakdowns to quasi-punk/garage rock energy into their work.  More Queens of the Stone Age, less Led Zeppelin.

Technology is a bittersweet word to many San Franciscans and even more musicians.  Yes, it has leveled the playing field between independent labels and soulless conglomerates, allowing more artists to break through who would’ve otherwise never been given a chance through easily accessible social media and relatively cheap new means of recording.  It has, however, also cluttered said field with many musicians far better at promoting their work than actually creating it, leading to a sterilization of the talent pool.  The vast technological leaps have especially benefited the ‘bedroom musicians,’ those who can compose entire albums on laptops with just a basic knowledge of Pro Tools.  This, in turn, has led to a proliferation of electronic music and its prevalent assimilation into mainstream consciousness.  If you don’t think that’s true, just ask your mom.  Even she knows who Daft Punk is nowadays.

It’s a preference of the DJ over the band, the individual versus the collective, synthesizers rather than guitars, ravers instead of rockers.  Everywhere from the top of the Billboard charts to indie-blog buzz can you find the description ‘synth-based dream pop’ attached to a dozen or so artists at any given moment.  It’s not an unbecoming label: it is the kind of music I find myself falling asleep to and then ironically dream about other, more interesting music.

I guess what I’m trying to say is I’m glad a guitar-centered band like City of Women still exists in the new millennium.  It gives me a faint glimmer of hope in rock n’ roll’s future, one that has been steadily fading ever since Cobain proved there was no more room for the over-idolized, insufferably idealized and corporately-sponsored rockstar in the modern world.  More importantly, though, City of Women proves that rock music can still be relevant, catchy and just as interesting as anything being composed on a computer. 

Okay…it’s time I end this blog before it becomes a rant a la Win Butler at Coachella.  Just check these guys out.

Posted by Nicholas Schneider


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