City of Straw

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Have no fear, the New York trio Sightings remain -- on one hand -- as impenetrable as ever on their fourth album. By most reasonable standards, the eight songs comprising City of Straw are off-putting blasts of mongrel noise. But what appears to be utterly claustrophobic, abstract chaos reveals itself as a rich collection of layered compositions that -- when topped with guitarist Mark Morgan's vocals -- can even approach the outer realms of pop. By Sightings' standards, this is accessible, inviting songwriting. The surfaces might be comprised of screeching glitches, but the structures are ordered and repeating. In places, drummer Jon Lockie's fractured electronic percussion combined with Morgan's textural guitar and drifting vocals recall (surely accidentally) the most barren drum machine moments of Radiohead's Kid A, with the existential angst knob cranked into overdrive. Lockie's setup, which includes a vintage '80s drum brain, defines much of Sightings' sound. On two songs, including the (nearly) straightforward "Sky Above Mud Below," he sticks almost entirely to the acoustic kit, using his electronic drums for fills as a more traditional trap drummer might use cymbals. On the nine-minute title track and centerpiece -- for which the band is joined by No-Neck Blues Band keyboardist Pat Murano -- Lockie stays entirely electronic, laying the fuzzed and ever-shifting grid for Morgan's echoing melody, which floats between narrative and small, buried hooks. Bassist Richard Hoffman's job throughout is to play counterpoint to Lockie's impressionistic drums and Morgan's even more impressionistic guitar, defining the songs' most distinct shapes. Recorded with Oneida members (and Brah Records label heads) Kid Millions and Shahin Motia, City of Straw presents an album that grows more and more connected with each listen.

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