New City Blues
A distinct sound and a solid, if strange, throughline make for an album that’s nearly great.
Storytelling is a fairly often-recurring theme in the reviews throughout QROCC, but odds are I’ll speak of narrative hardly ever at all. This is not because country records don’t have a narrative — or if that’s true, then it’s true because they don’t have a narrative, but many. The issue is that narrative is not a particular concern of mine, and that what it accomplishes is usually in tandem with other aspects (stylistic, structural, or otherwise) that I tend to find more compelling. All of which is to say: both the greatest strength and the greatest weakness of New City Blues is how it establishes a very obvious thematic throughline. It’s an album with a narrative.
Ahead of that, though, it’s an album with reverb-gated drums and overdriven guitars, and with a twang in the voice that flickers in and out of prominence. It sounds good, in a way that could easily (and not unfairly) be called overproduced.
The throughline in New City Blues is most prominent in the songs “Paper Doll,” “Magazines,” and “People Talking;” each takes aim at the ways in which people are deceptive and deceived. The rest of the record incessantly returns to this notion, even if it isn’t as explicit or only tangential to the song. Whether you’re into that theme or not, it vibes off the (over)production in neatly ambivalent ways and allows things like the outro’s Cobainish qualities to shine through.
The issue with the narrative is that Sellers isn’t producing a Monkey or Odysseus; it’s not a story of canniness or fate or anything. It’s just a claim that people who present themselves in intentional ways are both deceptive and deceived. That they’re wrapped up in what magazines tell them, and that they betray and use you. As befitting as it may be with those stadium rock drums, it’s also just kind of exhausting.