erasing clouds

The Floating City, Entering a Contest

reviewed by dave heaton

It seems like lately most of the bands that evoke Radiohead, even subtly, are intent on taking the blueprint of The Bends in a bland soft-rock direction, softening the edges and turning it into background music for mall shopping or TV commercial watching. The St. Louis band The Floating City seems to take at least some of their starting cues from Radiohead: the Floating City's layered form of rock similarly point towards a contemporary sort of prog-rock, and their debut album Entering a Contest has an OK Computer-like vision of alienation and loneliness, with a similar attention to the ways that modern living affects individual souls. Yet the similarities here are only part of an exciting bigger picture.

The Floating City blend a carefully textured, atmospheric, future-leaning rock sound with a certain down-to-earth sensitivity (which I, a St. Louisian by birth, would like to claim as uniquely Midwestern, whether that's the truth or not). There's a real thoughtfulness to Entering a Contest's commentary on day-to-day living in this modern world, and to the nuanced music, driven by instruments as diverse as cello, synthesizer, lap steel, vibraphone, and cell phones.

At first there seems to be a sense of distance to the first-person minimalist poems that make up Floating City lyrics, and a accompanying distance to the music, but that soon fades, the closer you listen. Ultimately the diverse instruments and involved arrangements are enveloping in a comforting way, during both the most rocking and the quietest moments. The band powerfully projects yearning on songs like "You Are a Weapon", which in some universe would be considered a show-stopping soul ballad. And first impressions of lyrical distance eventually prove to be surface-level, as most of the words which lead vocalist Gareth Schumacher sings are often disarmingly personal and reassuring.

"Reassuring" is a word that needs to be repeated. For while Entering a Contest offers a vivid portrait of a society that seems filled with broken hearts and people who feel lost, the ultimate perspective is a very humane and understanding one. The song "Whose Side Are You On?", its title sounding like a populist anthem, is a perfect example of the general feeling of the album. It's a cry for connection, with beautifully phrased thoughts like this one: "I know how hard it is to try / I stare at city lights as if I'm standing by for what has taken my whole life." Yet the tone, of the words, of Schumacher's voice, and of the music as it swings upward, is gentle and comforting, silently exuding the feeling that the world hasn't gone cold, that fear and sadness aren't the end, that human hearts aren't yet frozen.

{First Flight:
The Floating City:}

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