On its sophomore record, Old Bricks moves away from the stripped down folk of their debut, Farmers. City Lights introduces a varied soundscape that draws on both the constricting and freeing nature of urban surroundings.
The album opens with the paranoid “Appetite.” Unsettled percussion and dissonant wails slowly pressurize the song. The tension distracts the listener from the scale of the sound. It’s like being in a big city for the first time and being too nervous to look up. Old Bricks isn’t working in wide open spaces any more, they’re building vertically, layering one sound on another.
City Lights gradually opens up. “Gleam” is a shy, but curious tune that builds to a bright climax. “Limb” is a bit more lively with rolling drums and a second half that begins to gallop. However, it’s not until the fantastic “Shepard” that the album really hits its stride. Its big, deliberate downbeats help it stand on its own apart from its surroundings.
While the setting has changed for Old Bricks, the backbone has not. There is still plenty of warble in lead singer Stuart Edwards vocals and - despite the growing orchestrations around him - he still sings in a hushed manner.
His vocal technique has its consequences. Sometimes it can be grating — “Waves” comes to mind in particular — and it makes the lyrics more difficult to decipher, but the benefit is that it adds an undeniably intimate texture to the recordings.
Early bits of City Lights can pass by unnoticed, but the confidence Old Bricks gains in the second half of the record will make you want to go back and listen to what you missed.
City Lights will be released on Grip Tapes May 8. Old Bricks will play Local 506 with Filthybird on May 3.