Life In Your Glass World, the latest record from Toledo, Ohio’s trailblazing indie rock group Citizen – which is a March release from Run For Cover Records – bursts with energy.
The album, which is the group’s fourth full-length, turns into more confrontational territory than the band have explored in the past, with consistently abrasive rhythms held together by brisk energy that keeps the music moving forward. Within the very first moments on opening track “Death Dance Approximately,” there’s a grinding edge in the rhythms, and this in-your-face spirit reappears elsewhere on the album on tracks like “Pedestal.”
“There’s kind of a purposeful shift away from I guess what people would have come to know Citizen to be, in terms of the emotions being centered around sadness and melancholy, mostly in the instrumentation,” guitarist Nick Hamm explains. “There’s a lot of anger in the songs, especially lyrically, but I think that that kind of worked out being felt in a lot of the instrumentation too. A lot of the songs are upbeat, a lot of them are dance-y, but a lot of them are pretty aggressive too.[…] I would say that this album has some of our most aggressive songs ever, and it’s kind of all over the place in that way, but there’s just a lot of emotions on this record that I don’t think really existed on Citizen records before.”
Overall, Life In Your Glass World features rather rich dynamic swings. After the icy blasts of the opening two tracks, which are particularly intense, follow-up songs including “Blue Sunday,” “Thin Air,” and beyond feature a rather breathable and somewhat soulful edge in the rhythms. The gentler moments – including an acoustic guitar appearance on the track “Glass World” – don’t venture particularly far from the simmering tension at the core of the album.
The sounds themselves seem to encapsulate an inwardly tiring push-and-pull between exuberance and frustration, and they powerfully reflect an experience of straining emotional chaos with a freeing honesty. The melodies seem strong, which amplifies the impact of the emotional turmoil.
“It seems like during the writing process of this record, things unexpectedly kept happening, not necessarily good things, and so a lot of the writing really was kind of played by ear in a sense,” Hamm shares. “I would say everyone in the band, since we started making the record – which was almost a year and a half ago – has gone through changes that have essentially changed everybody permanently, and we basically couldn’t have predicted the record to be about the topics that it’s about, and so in that sense, it really was just kind of off the cuff.”
Some of the lyrics from vocalist Mat Kerekes seem to reflect tension over the band’s experience in the music industry – on “Pedestal,” for instance, he sings, in part, as follows: “I got nothing more to give, only a bitter taste/ Never doing what I want and only making pocket change/ My insecurities are heavy and hang on a string/ Well you can tell me what you want and you won’t get a fucking thing.” Often, the tones of his vocals seem to communicate the tension of his words – at some points, he’s even kind of shouting in the sense of a classic post-hardcore vibe.
“There’s also themes that have kind of existed in Mat’s lyricism forever,” Hamm shares. “There’s a lot of outward emotion, whereas I think on our last album, there was a lot of introspection and he was looking a little more inward, and now, throughout a lot of the songs, I think he’s blowing off a lotta steam. And in a way that feels really good – I mean I’m sure for him, but it feels good for me too, because it feels like, four LPs down the line, we’ve still got some fire left in us, and we’re not to the slow indie record yet.”
Stylistically, Hamm explains that he, Kerekes, and bassist Eric Hamm, who rounds out the three-piece, have a wide variety of musical influences and interests, from groups like Protomartyr on his part to artists like Gorillaz on the part of Kerekes. Relatedly, the guitarist says that he’s lately been listening a lot to albums including the 2019 self-titled record from the late David Berman’s indie rock project Purple Mountains, the 2020 LP Pain Olympics by the Canadian art punk group Crack Cloud, and songs by the late singer-songwriter Bobby Charles.
“I think our personal influences are pretty separate, and especially in Mat’s writing, he’s able to gel them in a way that I would struggle to, and so I think that there’s a lot of that on this record,” the guitarist shares. “For lack of a better comparison, I think that kind of early 2000s New York sound is leaking into it, but I also don’t think it sounds like a Bloc Party record or an Interpol record or anything like that. So it was just fun to kind of mesh all the things we were listening to but kind of exist in that general style.”
While crafting Life In Your Glass World, Citizen controlled the process – the band recorded the songs in a studio that Kerekes constructed in his garage.
The first time that the band used the self-directed recording set-up was for their 2019 standalone single “Big Mouth,” the guitarist explains, and the group liked the way that the track turned out. “This was our first time really committing to it – which is scary,” Hamm observes, discussing the band’s more recent experience. “Obviously, if we booked studio time at an amazing studio, you know it’s gonna come out a certain way, and this time around, it really was up in the air if it was gonna be a usable project. So a little intimidating, but at the end of it, it was immediately obvious that it had at the very least gone fine.”
The self-recording process for Life In Your Glass World apparently took awhile.
“The most challenging thing was that from start to finish it took us eight months or so, and that is very, very not what we’re used to,” Hamm shares. “We’re used to booking a month and a half, two months in the studio, and you get done what you can get done, and it’s very rigid. This time around, I believe we started the recording process in September or October, and we expected to be done by the end of 2019, and we didn’t receive masters back until April, so it was just a really drawn out process, and next time around, I think that we would probably try to buckle down a little harder than we did.”
The band also faced “unexpected things that popped up that delayed the record,” Hamm shares, but Citizen found some positives.
“The positive thing is that we could approach each song individually more,” the guitarist shares. “It felt less like a kind of factory assembly line creation of a record, so we were able to take a day and completely devote it to one song, which just allowed a lot of different ideas to come about that I don’t think would if we were just kind of blasting through one instrument at a time for the entire record. I just think it allowed for different little nuances to come about, and I also think it’s the most raw that Citizen has sounded. I think it’s noticeably less polished than other Citizen records, and that is just more in line with our tastes, and it just feels a little more true to the things that we’re into. So I’m excited about that.”
The energy across this latest Citizen effort culminates in the subtly but increasingly triumphant “Edge of the World,” which feels rather powerfully placed as an album closer. “But at the end of the day, there is beauty in tragedy,” Kerekes energetically sings as a relatively unbroken drum rhythm helps build the surging, heart-pounding ambiance.
“What I loved about putting specifically ‘Edge of the World’ last on the record was that pretty much the whole record apart from a couple songs are really blowing off some steam, and kind of exorcising these frustrations with people around us, or maybe not people at all, maybe just the way that things seem to be going […] and that last song is a really sad song to begin with, and then the end of the song is probably the most positive that I’ve ever heard Mat on a Citizen song before, and honestly I was surprised when he wrote the lyrics because it felt like the clouds breaking a little bit at the end of this record that is pretty stormy.”
Besides the poignant placement on the record, Hamm also sees the song in light of the band’s entire output.
“I just thought it was a great way to go out,” he shares. “I also thought – part of me thinks, as time goes on, I always have this thought in the back of my head: This could be the last Citizen record, or this could be the last Citizen song even, and I just thought that that was such a nice way to wrap things up and kind of go out on this tone of: While we kind of aired everything out that we have to air out, things aren’t so bad and things could definitely be worse. I don’t always subscribe to those feelings, so it’s kind of nice to just have that on record.”
Read our review of Life In Your Glass World here.