Citizens Here and Abroad
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Citizens Here and Abroad

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Music

The best kept secret in music

Press


San Francisco’s Citizens Here and Abroad works the yin and yang of pop with a sure hand on this ravishing debut. The melodies entice, the harmonies hypnotize, and the band constantly keeps things propulsive, each song rocketing along at a well-caffeinated rate of speed. But though the melodies are strong, they aren’t sugary; though the rhythm section is potent, it’s subtle. Yin and yang, you know – a balance. A song that sticks in your head without driving you up the wall with its calculated inanity. A song that forces your reluctant limbs to move without pandering to them with rhythms taken from “Grooves For Dummies.” Not a lot of bands can or try to give you what you want and what you need simultaneously. You want the immediacy of a strong melody to take up that empty space in your brain that’s just gonna be filled with some useless datum anyway. You need that tune to have a touch of the mystery absent from the daily to-do list yet in abundance in the universe surrounding us and in the lives that slip through our fingers. Good news pilgrims: the twain meet on Ghosts of Tables and Chairs.

You can find here 10 spooky tunes full of haunted voices billowing amid chiming and fuzzy guitars threading out in every direction while a very commendable bassist and drummer keep the momentum going all the time. I keep telling myself that the wheel’s not being re-invented here, just relax. But I haven’t heard these ingredients put together so successfully since…well, I honesty can’t think of anyone. Maybe that’s lack of imagination on my part or a deficient memory for outstanding bands but, whatever, Citizens Here and Abroad is special, that much I know. For one, “They Stay” is fantastic. The song constantly rises and falls in dynamic till all but the female vocal and a lightly strummed guitar drop out for the chorus. It’s a perfect moment. The entire structure of the song resists falling into formula, fully inspired, turning this way and that and ending with a delicious little bit before – boom, abrupt end, song’s over and you have been served. Yes I said “delicious.” Actually, it may be the exact adjective required for this disc.

“Appearances” rides a steadier beat to its money shot, still managing to be blissfully catchy and shadowy at the same time. All instruments firing, it sounds great and it isn’t even a standout track. Note to self: see these guys live. They sound like they cook, and if they can pull off this balance of darkly seductive vocals, frenetic down-stroking guitars, and motoring drums then the drinks are on me. Even slower songs like “In Flight Movie” or “Count Each One” build their tension beautifully; exciting where they could just drift along, content to be pretty. The ghostly background vocals on “The Voices” sound great too, but again the restlessly structured composition doesn’t want go to the well too often, and those voices appear early and disappear, not to return. These tendencies could make for jagged, haphazard songs, but instead they hold together well and reveal themselves in stages, begging for repeat listening.

You know how you sometimes hear a record that’s decent but doesn’t blow you away? How as you’re trying to find the best aspects of that record and appreciate the positives what you really want to hear is something that knocks you over, something you don’t have to convince yourself is good? This is that record - the good one I mean. I was gonna complain about the less-than-sharp production on the disc, but please! I’m overwhelmed and smitten, and as far as I’m concerned, right now, this is an easy contender for record of the year. - Delusions of Adequacy


From the hollowed-out cheer of the opening track "The Voices," Ghosts of Tables and Chairs proves to be a consolidated pop music tour de force, an early frontrunner for my Best Of 2004 list. Adrienne Robillard's dark, sultry voice caresses the woofers and tweeters like no one since Lush's Miki Berenyi, eschewing the high-pitched baby-doll vocals that ruin most potentially great albums in favor of a more subdued, husky deadpan. But make no mistake about it, Robillard (and the entire album, for that matter) are as sexy and appealing as anything you'll come across this year.

Ghosts of Tables and Chairs, like a number of great mood-pop albums before it, dispenses with the standard verse/chorus/verse song structure without sacrificing any of the catchiness. The fruit of Citizens Here and Abroad's labor occupies the often under populated position of being both musically adept and overtly accessible. Throughout the album's ten tracks - and oh, how I wish it were longer - the Citizens employ languid instrumental passages as a backdrop to accentuate Robillard's confessional lyrics, and in turn Robillard ups the emphasis on her breathy vocals when the band lets out the leash and runs with it. The result is a true companionship between lyrical imagery and musical scene - tracks such as "Count Each One" could easily fit as an instrumental track on any number of early 90s British psychedelic-pop albums.

The playful, wafer-thin Casio tones that introduce "Enter the Elevator" ad just enough character before giving in to the swell of distorted guitars and anxious percussion. Dan Lowrie's guitar buzzes away just below the surface, occasionally giving way to Chris Groves' keyboard melodies, but the entire composition is at the mercy of Chris Wetherell's drums, which ebb into complacent back beat duty only to explode with the pounding fury of a well placed drum fill just as the track begins to wane, accelerating it across the finish tape with proper boost. As Robillard's voice hints ("I'd like to sleep all day/ but there is money to be made"), the band wouldn't mind sitting back and letting the good times roll lazily by, but even in the hazy sun-kissed epicenter of the band's gentle melodies there is room - and a necessity - to rock.

Even when their own procedure seems to be producing indisputable results, Citizens aren't afraid to fuck with the formula. Robillard ups the voltage on the eek-o-meter for the vocals of "They Stay" for a moment, adding contrast to her return to the hushed cynicism of lines like "It's hard to be excited about all of this concrete". Elsewhere the random sparkle of bells (which sound like a xylophone on tracks like "Your Own Hand") and keyboard are embedded in the otherwise dark, droning, brooding beauty of Ghosts of Tables and Chairs, giving the album a united feel without it being void of character.

Fans of the Velvets, Juliana Hatfield, the Breeders, Liz Phair, Lush, et cetera - take note of this release. Ghosts of Tables and Chairs is easily one of the most poignant albums I've heard in 2004, paying homage to indie rock's musical history without failing to live in the here and now. Respect with relevance is what Citizens Here and Abroad do wonderfully, sounding familiar without ever becoming tired. This is a great release. - Lost at Sea


Smart, literate and brainy, the Citizens craft a simple proto-folkie sound that's dynamic enough to keep you awake yet has an underlying skein of sparse minimalism that's perfect for cruising sodium lit highways on cruise control at three in the morning. And don't think they don't know it, either. On "You Drive And We'll Listen To Music," Adrienne Robillard seductively coos: "You drive…and we'll listen…to music…in the engine." Now if that's not a sentiment worthy of Kraftwerk in their prime, I don't know what is. Bonus points for using a Casio in 2004. - Creem Magazine


It's always heartening as a reviewer to find an album that instantly speaks to me and beckons me to listen over and over. The February release by Citizens Here and Abroad, Ghosts of Tables and Chairs, is one such disc. When I heard "The Voices," the first song on the album, I knew I'd stumbled upon a gem. The song is a great representation of the entire album: it demonstrates the band's pop sensibilities and its ability to weave sadness and yearning into upbeat rhythms and buoyant voices. The best pop records use the accessibility of the genre to express the shadowy sides of life, and this disc performs that function perfectly.

The album features twinkling chimes, Dan Lowrie's fast-paced yet haunting minor riffs, the gorgeous harmonies of Chris Groves and Adrienne Robillard, and hesitant, yearning vocal phrasing. Citizens' music is dark and brooding without going over the edge -- a silver lining outlines the songs, providing a sense of hope. One album stand-out is "They Stay." The song encases a serious message within pretty pop melodies, creating an edgy juxtaposition. Robillard laments suburbia's concrete and strip malls and questions those who promise to change in air-conditioned churches. She wonders why they stay, why they're not searching for something better. The song ends with Groves' and Robillard's a cappella line, "Pretend we're all the same / It's easier that way." It's moments like this, in which the band couches stinging statements within a beautifully sung phrase, that make this album a must-have. - Venus Magazine


This California quartet, out of all of the albums I've reviewed this time around, have dropped the straight junk. A bit Yo La Tengo, a bit Pinback, and a smidgen Sonic Youth, these guys and gal made me sit down and listen to the whole thing, two times, one right after the other. This is really pleasant, sometimes dark pop that doesn't enter the radio realm, but that hardcore hipsters might dismiss as a little trite. Don’t listen to them. This is one of the best albums I've had the pleasure of reviewing since I ran into the Bettawreckonize crew and started writing reviews. It's just good, there really isn't any other way to explain it. I don't know much about them but I'd love to learn more. This is definitely something to check out. In fact, in a perfect world they’d be touring with Yo La Tengo, Pinback, Stereolab, Forget Cassettes, and other similar folks. And you and I would be there. - Bettawreckonize


It may be a personal bias, but it seems that some of the most enchanting music of the last couple years has come from bands with a split female/male vocal team. The Delagados, Stars and the Raveonettes are a few candidates that quickly come to mind. So for me, it was hard not to fall for Ghosts of Tables and Chairs, the debut album from the Bay Area's Citizens Here and Abroad. Singers Chris Groves and Adrienne Robillard wrap their warm voices around taut guitar lines, pounding snare drums and simple, yet interesting effects on ten little pop nuggets. While a quick ear will recall early '90's college-darlings Velocity Girl, these tracks are less happy-go-lucky in both tone and attitude. The album is both haunting and inviting, with surging crescendos and quirky sidesteps when least expected. - Amplifier Magazine


"Where has honesty gotten me lately?" Adrienne Robillard sings on "Appearances," a track from Citizens Here and Abroad's debut full-length, Ghosts of Tables and Chairs. But on an album marked by confessional lyrics and other emotional outbursts, even "Appearances" 's cynicisms come out sounding sweetly heart-stricken, suggesting the question remains unanswered.

Robillard (vocals, guitar) and Dan Lowrie (guitar, vocals) from Secadora and Chris Groves (keyboards) and Chris Wetherell (drums) from Dealership have put together an album that pleasantly echoes the more lucid moments of early-'90s British dream pop. Catchy guitar lines and dynamic shifts between slow, hushed beginnings and orchestral crescendos give Ghosts plenty of drama, but the charm is often in the vocals. "Microphone"'s emotional pressure comes in the wistful, drawn-out delivery of a line like "I know it's somewhere out there if I could only get there," in the tension between the verses' measured tones and the chaotic counterpoint of the chorus. "In Flight Movie" slows its pace for a gorgeously unhappy line in which the narrator's head fills with unwanted ideas. Throughout, the album holds the pleasure of Robillard and Groves's warm, slightly swoony harmonies, which have a romantically melancholic quality befitting an album populated by ghosts. - San Francisco Bay Guardian


Discography

Ghosts of Tables and Chairs - LPCD
Released: February 2004
Label: Omnibus Records
Distribution: Nail
Digital Distribution (iTunes, etc...): DRA

We Have charted at college radio stations throughout the US.

Photos

Feeling a bit camera shy

Bio

After reading a 1953 Girl Scout Handbook together one late night by candlelight and learning that “Appreciation of music is increased through listening and through making music yourself,” Citizens Here and Abroad formed in the fall of 2002. Together, they forged the Chris G. and Chris W.’s pop with Adrienne and Dan’s more edgy, moody guitars, Chris G. and Adrienne at the vocal helm. The resulting play on dark and light, chaos and calm, landed them their first show opening for Rainer Maria and Rilo Kiley. Citizens have since supported The Polyphonic Spree, The Decemberists, and British Sea Power. After recording their first album, the band toured the West Coast.

Citizens Here and Abroad’s debut album, “Ghosts of Tables and Chairs,” was released by Omnibus Records on February 3, 2004 to wide critical acclaim. Citizens toured to SXSW in March and followed that up with a national tour in April.

On Ghosts of Tables and Chairs, Citizens Here and Abroad have created a sound that is all their own. While reviews have been overwhelmingly positive, reviewers have struggled to describe the band. Reading three reviews may give the impression of three different bands. Comparisons that tend to come up repeatedly include Sonic Youth, Stereolab and My Bloody Valentine.