On the second track from Modey Lemon's new album The Curious City, "Sleepwalkers," Phil Boyd sings "try to get my picture in the history books / gonna make a sound that the world shook ... let's talk about the future of me and you for a while" over an insistent, pounding crescendo. It's an old rock 'n' roll theme -- everyone is sleepwalking through life rather than assaulting it, from our leaders to our peers, and it takes a conscious decision of rebellion to walk away from the shadows on the cave wall. Or, in terms the sci-fi loving Modey might appreciate, Boyd is Roddy Piper in They Live, and he's all out of bubblegum.
The Curious City could be seen as the result of Modey Lemon's band meetings to "talk about the future of me and you for a while." While certainly continuing in the rock-dominated lineage of its breakthrough album, Thunder & Lightning, The Curious City feels like the band's first entirely singular recording -- something that is and could only be theirs. Achingly familiar yet largely unique, it's an amalgam of musical influences ranging from the band's long-time loves (garage and psych rock) to an array of hipster perennials (Suicide, Swell Maps) and steadfastly unfashionable adorations (Hawkwind, Gong). Other rockists may be content to propagate hackneyed concepts of "reviving the corpse of rock 'n' roll": Modey Lemon's City is, at its finest moments, neuromancy to its peers' necromancy.
Like "Fingers, Drains," a massive proposition of a song, filled with self-flagellating drum rituals, "computer says no" Moog retributions, and strangled guitar begging, all complemented by rain-and-fire lyrics that, like so much of Modey's output, belong scrawled on the backs of stoners' math notebooks everywhere. (FYI: Avoid when hung over.) Or "Mountain Mist," a swirling mess of riff and whir measured in kilograms, not decibels. Or the above-mentioned "Sleepwalkers," the beginning of Boyd's lyrical concentration on history -- not as fable or story, but as a concept, and one fairly lacking in today's culture (in which even the goddamn Prez shrugs it off: "We'll all be dead").
But despite City's heavy guitars and history-and-sci-fi lyrics (both Boyd), the main characters on this record are Jason Kirker and Paul Quattrone. Kirker, Modey's "new guy," is the obvious catalyst that released this new, unfettered sound: His bass, his synths, his engineering and production presence, have made this Modey audibly thicker and fresher than before. The biggest difference being the band's new signature -- Quattrone's crisp and relentless drum sound. His is the most volatile and individualistic aspect of The Curious City, and it's a strength the band has certainly played to.
Case in point: "Trapped Rabbits," City's Oneida-ish 16-minute closing opus, many minutes of which are almost entirely drum. It's the closest Modey Lemon comes to nailing down the chaotic hit-and-miss brilliance/anarchy of the band's transitional live shows, when they were moving from two- to three-piece, and going loopy with the newfound freedoms. Like the stark death-folk contribution, "Countries," "Rabbits" marks something different still -- even on what's already a departure for the group. Perhaps it's a sign that the band continues to go flipping over rocks to see what squirms. Maybe it'll continue to be successful; for now, maybe it's time to rest on these chaotic, grim laurels, at least for a minute.