City and Colour – Little Hell
Record Label: Vagrant Records
Release Date: June 7, 2011
Alexisonfire vocalist/guitarist Dallas Green first realized his softer, more sensitive sensibilities in City and Colour with 2005’s Sometimes, a minimalistic endeavor that utilizes Green’s voice, an acoustic guitar and a piano to spawn tear-jerking reflections about the anguishing distance, both figurative and physical, between two aching lovers. Green’s candor and emotional vulnerability serve as the record’s greatest attribute but took a backseat on Bring Me Your Love, an admirable follow-up that explores more mature topics such as death, alcoholism and unhappiness. It ultimately resonates as incomplete, a smattering of undeveloped ideas that were hatched before their gestation period was complete. Fortunately, Green has come full circle with Little Hell, a thematically mature and musically diverse record that improves upon the inadequacies of its predecessor.
Little Hell begins with “We Found Each Other in the Dark,” a romantic ballad that details how the innate attachment between two lovers triumphs above whatever roadblocks come between them. Green makes terrific use of imagery throughout the song, particularly in testifying “Through the black soulless water and the cold lonely air/on the rock restless seas, the vessel in deep disrepair/and the swans they started singing/but then oh rejoice, I can still hear your voice.” Green’s reliance on imagery and charged vocabulary continues in “Natural Disaster,” an exploration of a dilapidated expanse that once breathed vitality but is now in a state of decay. The music is catchy and the vocal delivery upbeat, both standing in stark contrast to lyrics that paint a picture of lifelessness and despair.
The themes present on Little Hell can best be described as sobering, an earnest acceptance of the harsh realities of life that come off as cathartic rather than depressing or defeatist. The ironically titled “The Grand Optimist,” the album’s stand out track, is no different. Green tells of a nagging dissatisfaction with life and its responsibilities, fearing “That all my debts will be left unpaid/Feel like a cripple without a cane/I’m like a jack of all trade’s who’s a master of none,” before acquiescing to a soulful chorus that spurs thoughts of southern gospel choirs. The instrumental experimentation in the chorus of “The Grand Optimist” is evident throughout Little Hell, particularly in “Fragile Bird,” with its foot-tapping electric guitar riffs, and “Weightless,” a bluesy song that would fit nicely on Thrice’s Beggars.
“Silver and Gold” and “Hope for Now” close out Little Hell and serve as breathtaking reminders of the progression Green has made on his new album. The former is an acoustic narrative that imagines the fall out of a bomb and its devastating impact on the physical world around it, only for Green to eventually conclude that “There was nothing left in which to believe” and “Everything I loved and feared had all at once disappeared,” solemn realizations that everything in this world is finite and can implode in an instant. “Hope for Now” finishes the album in epic fashion, opening with a faint piano melody before exploding into a hazy crescendo where Green, after all his despondent rumination, finally sees some fulfillment and purpose in his life: “What if I could sing just one song and it might save somebody’s life/Then I would sing all that I could sing/Cause that is when, when I feel that I’m not just counting time.”
Dallas Green deserves utmost praise for his desire to mature and evolve, as the lyrical and musical leaps made on Little Hell result in his best record under the City and Colour moniker and a current favorite for album of the year. City and Colour is no longer just a band that specializes in sentimental acoustic songs, but rather an artistic heavyweight that excels at exploring formidable themes and experimenting musically.