Cityfires’ latest release is fire. That pun is too easy not to make, but I really mean it. With buoyant emotional synthpop, some of the most magnetic sound design I’ve heard all year, and fascinating lyrics – this album’s spirit is most deserving of the title “adventure” out of all that I’ve written about. It’s full of surprises and seriously fine-tuned, with tracks like ‘The Tangle’ trimmed down to interesting ideas, while others such as the titular song take the time they need for a core feeling to hit home.
Full to the brim with electric melody lines, immersive sound design, and creative mixing decisions, this fifteen-track masterpiece never sacrifices quality for quantity. Tight vocal tracks are infused with textured electronica, and organic instrumentation as well. Instrumentals are just as diverse: ‘Daybreak Apparatus’ echoes the peppy videogame joy of earlier ChipWIN comps, while ‘Dreamshifting’ feels like some more recent chiptune which draws from mathrock. Alternatively, ‘Mothfold’ defies description. The whole album is kinetic, and really integrated, a trip through clear landscapes and sights to behold.
It is also a story of hope in moving forward.
With a delicious guitar backdrop, ABSRDST-esque vocal manipulation, and a downright shocking variety of instrumentation, ‘Ranger’ is one hell of a 5/4 jam. That’s a sentence. Chip pulses and piano runs ring in unison, accompanied by all kinds of woodwinds and brass. A grounding rhythm section holds them together. The drum beats are especially strong, helping the track expand and contract naturally, growing and breathing until the climax.
One segment features this perfect clarinet part, as compact chord voicings bring character to each hit, while clarinet and bass alike trace the motion in between. Chip countermelodies build up, followed by horns and so much else. What stands out most in this section, however, is the vocal work – a distorted picture shifting left and right. Lyrics complement the chaos, jumpy and elusive, pieced together like a stream of consciousness. Despite this, the 32 line stanza glows with imagery. Fragments of sentences form an idea that stays whole. The writing is vulnerable, but also smart. With gutsy stylistic choices, the song’s central conflict could easily feel unanswered – yet the last line serves as a statement of resolve.
“No we can’t stop”
While ‘Ranger’ is a declaration, ‘CODA’ is a conversation. Melodies are constantly in call and response, with stunning piano fills like reflections of light. One point early on, the vocals literally alternate between two voices, moving towards the same space as the piece progresses. Cityfires’ writing this time is made of actions: breaking screens, reaching out through pages – but the heaviest words feel less set in stone. “Will you remember this?”
‘CODA’ also takes a more electronic tone overall. Once again, stellar drums hold down the fort. A more intricate chiptune arsenal takes the spotlight this time, with a piercing haunted lead, retro basslines, and plucky layered pulses that feel like a banjo? Like before, the arrangement pushes and steps back, only filling completely by the final act. It’s such a great example of how Cityfire’s music concerns itself with voices and space.
To me, the lyrics evoke a scene from a movie, like an intimate moment that takes place on a dramatic stage. ‘CODA’ even sports an intermission, before rising up and up. The instrumentation fits this scene, as theatrical piano and strings fuel a magical finale of pure melodic voices. Every time I hear it, it takes my breath away. The verses’ uncertainty searches for a resolution, and we’re beginning to see a pattern: moving forward.
“I can’t tell you what you wanna hear
But I can help remind you
These moments are behind you
So please just let them go
Cause we can climb beyond the past
And cut into the tangle
And find another angle
To see the light below”
This release is a journey with more turns than I could cover, but if the lyrical path of hope has a destination, I would say it comes to focus in ‘Lines’. Synths are playful and sincere, while the more fantastical elements surprisingly take the backseat. Piano, strings, and soaring guitars toward the end, all are direct and supporting roles, with a bit of reverberation for space. The focus is undoubtedly on the central melodies, a single voice front and center. This is so fitting for the vocals, not only in sound but also in meaning, as the lyrics convey a realization of self. ‘Lines’ discusses love, creativity, and opening up, but nothing defines the song more than a pair of staves about transformation:
“To turn into anything
Or anyone that you could define
Well if I could solve myself
I’d run to the edge and bleed through the lines
What do you have to show for it
If all you can do is wait for the signs
And if you could decipher it
You’d run through the gates and over the lines”
There’s something special about this song, making it stand out to everyone I know who has heard this. It’s heartfelt, and empowering, and creates a lot of meaning out of self determination. From the rest of the text, Cityfires is singing about art, bleeding through lines – and you get the sense the song says a bit about this music’s creation. But I would be remiss not to follow what these lyrics tell us, to color outside the lines. I suppose I should talk about what this song means to me.
Regardless of how much was on purpose (I know nothing of the authorial intent here), I feel like this song resonates a lot with me personally because I’m LGBTQ+. Waiting for signs, defining yourself, and not fitting within the lines that have been drawn out for you – these experiences are hard. There’s something especially true in how this song about self discovery and turning into anything is just as much about love that is hard to find, and getting lost in moments, and letting others in. I know a lot of people who are still learning so much about themselves, because understanding your queerness or your gender identity can rely so much on having people you trust and connect with, and living as yourself.
For all the messages art can give to us, we bring so much meaning to it. As much as a poem or song can be an artist speaking to us, it can just as easily be a canvas for us to project onto, and find ourselves in.
Moving forward often requires difficult decisions, uncertainty, chaos. With ‘CCL Dive’, Cityfires gives me hope.
( Also, happy pride month! ♡ )