It isn’t surprising that for the second time in two years, I have been so confused and elated at the same time over a Citizen record. Ever since the release of their stellar debut EP ‘Young States’ in 2011 and what is potentially the best split ever with Turnover the following year, the band had amassed themselves quite the strong fan base, even before the much awaited release of their full-length debut. Much of this has to be attributed to the boyhood charms of Mat Kerekes (who at this point is barely 20), who has one of the best vocal deliveries and lyricism to date. All of this success and exposure has landed them on another Warped Tour, and they couldn’t have timed the release of their sophomore effort in ‘Everybody Is Going to Heaven’ any better to support the new songs to fans across the country. There’s only one problem with this strategy and it’s a question of whether they’ve committed too much, too fast. Have Citizen catapulted themselves outside of their fans’ comfort zones? The evidence from analysis of both 2013′s ‘Youth’ and this year’s ‘Everybody Is Going To Heaven’ seems to answer that question with a resilient yes.
Our first preview of ‘EIGTH’ came in the form of the heaviest we would hear (and surprisingly, have heard thus far) from Citizen this time around, in “Cement” and “Stain.” Both are extremely grunge-heavy and feature some of Mat’s most aggressive moments, accompanied by the one of the tightest bass lines from Eric since “I Still Shut My Eyes.” Personally, I feel that the latter of the new tracks is a tad overproduced and as a result, fires it way outside of the scope and concept of the record. Was it meant to be a one-off to try and show older fans that they haven’t quite let go? We may never know, but it definitely struck me as a moment of desperation, especially considering it serves to pick up the pace after some of the softest songs we’ve heard from them in “Heaviside” and “Weave Me (Into Yr Sin).” The former, and first official single, is quite the opposite as it sets the tone of the record and features what we’ve come to expect from Citizen; brooding build ups in the verses that forecast an exploding chorus or bridge. These elements aren’t rocket science (it’s pretty much industry-standard at this point), but when you add intricate lyrics and guitar/rhythm lines the like Citizen brings, you can see why they’ve become so popular so rapidly.
The band’s most useful and absolute success came into form on ‘Youth’, where the addition of a slower song structure ended up helping out a lot (see: “The Night I Drove Alone” and “Sleep” for clear examples), and while the album was mostly carried by the amazing “The Summer,” it’s impossible to talk about Citizen without emotional heartstrings being tugged by their slower moments on the debut LP. So naturally, the production and creation of ‘EIGTH’ is no stranger to this fact and highlights it in, well, nearly almost ever song minus the clear exception of “Stain” and the record-saving-grace of “Numb Yourself” (set in cleverly as track #3). Of these songs, you’d be hard-pressed to find more emotional weight in the heavier songs, as “Dive Into My Sun” and “Heaviside” evoke feelings out of Mat similar to the ones mentioned from ‘Youth.’ The only difference this time is that they’re not nearly as memorable as the famed tumblr slogans of “Tell me, do you sleep anymore?” or “I should’ve crashed the car, the night I drove alone.” For a frontman and lyricist as talented as Mat, it’s surprising that these new songs (seemingly) don’t include hooks to help them stand out as he’s expertly done in the past.
For all of the constructed criticism I have for Citizen’s second album, I’d be doing a disservice if I blatantly left out the absolutely stellar parts of ‘Everybody Is Going to Heaven.’ It’s pretty obvious that the #3 slot holds some weight for the band somehow, as both “The Summer” and “Numb Yourself” are the clear standouts from their respective albums. The overarching theme of ‘EIGTH’ plays on the build-up-then-explode method, and this track decides to flip it on it’s head, resulting in a truly unique Citizen song with one of Mat’s best delivered and written choruses: “These walls are built so you can confide/They’re painted handsomely so you abide/This glass is colored black so close your eyes/Numb yourself and you will stay inside.” Add in a key shift at 2:08 which is enough to make you shit your pants, and this song is definitely a winner. The closer of “Ring of Chain” both intrigues and distances me (in a similar way to how the band has struggled with ending tracks up to this point, ie. “Right Through” and “Drawn Out”) but once the chorus and resulting bridge ensue with Mat almost belting out: “A ring of chain takes place of me/But where am I,” it’s pretty clear they’ve overcome this task after two tries at it.
Citizen’s latest hasn’t convinced me 100% of where they plan on taking this combined heavy/slow style, but it has shown pretty alarmingly that they’re willing to pursue any genre. What troubles me is how common the movement from post-rock and emo of 2013 has shifted to shoegaze and grunge in such a short timespan. It’s almost as every band in these circles (Turnover, Superheaven, Title Fight, and Citizen to name a few) decided to turn a new leaf and abandon their roots. And that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, given how critics are quick to diss bands who never attempt to leave their comfort zone while simultaneously yelling at bands who do so and do a poor job at it. The trick is to remain true to yourself, regardless of who tells you how good or bad your piece of artwork is because opinions are just that, unique to the person claiming them. The fact of the matter is that ‘Everybody Is Going to Heaven’ just doesn’t scream what I know of Citizen to be, even with the notable homages to past material. 3.5/5