City of All Times is billed as a collection of field recordings from a trip across various cities in Europe. In a way, these types of excursions yield a bit of a mixed bag by nature as the artists are on the lookout for any surprising/intriguing sounds, which can make cohesion an especially rigorous challenge. This issue certainly comes into play for certain pieces of this work. Save the first two rather long pieces, the tracks are short clips of noise ranging from melodic guitar and church singing to white noise and shuffling textures. Still, John B McKenna and Richard Greenan manage to meld together a pair of masterfully collaged pieces with a general aesthetic field holding together the more fleeting tracks.
Opener “Peloton” focuses on forward momentum. The front of the track, although sparse, keeps a pressing synth line at the back of its head before the swooshing of cars passing by maintains the forward-moving sense in the next passage. Synth sounds return later to work with more rhythmic ideas, first repeating short clips obsessively before exploding into constant oscillation. Eventually, the track produces a rather straightforward beat to round out momentum of the beginning. “Peloton” introduces one of the more interesting sonic ideas on the record with its juxtaposition of textured recorded excerpts against more sterilized electronic material. Whether it be the particularly rhythmic clicks and taps or simply the static that accompanies the field recording sourced vocal excerpts, the project constantly adds a bit of imperfection atop the mechanical electronic foundations making for a strikingly human piece.
At six minutes (to Peleton’s 9), “Oslo” works in a relatively similar fashion. Again the beginning is sparse, but here rhythm is the only device. Samples of, what sounds like, trunks closing and various-sized bells ringing in unison break the silence at an unpredictable, but consistent pace. Slowly, McKenna and Greenan begin to sustain the bell sound effect for longer periods of time, playing with the pitch. Again we get a taste of somewhat mechanical electronic pitches in the middle, before a few textured samples and another structured beat to end things off.
Unfortunately, these tunes seem to be the most successful collages of the project. From this point forward, the duo shortens the track lengths quite a bit and seems to play with much fewer field recordings at a time. “Omnium” lasts two minutes of guitar melody, “I know, Gemma” features a waves crashing on the shore alongside a simple melody, and “Beaulieu” seems to just be a pleasant recording of a hymn sung in church. Although these samples are all quite nice, a bit of the songwriting on the first two tracks feels lost. Rather than taking sound recordings as a jumping off point for a longstanding, cohesive composition, the duo is adding a few small details to samples for a small clip of music.
Still, some of the minor details on these tracks do make them fit into the overall project to some degree. “Ominium” for instance compliments its guitar melody with a sliver of white noise off in the distance. “Sorgenfrivägen” also maintains the juxtaposition of clean electronic undertones and textured samples with a small handful of sound effects. Thus, these tracks aren’t completely removed from the album’s starting point, but their short lengths fail to match up to the cohesive flow of “Oslo” and “Peloton.”
The album is a worthwhile experience as a whole, but the duo should focus their energy on recreating the longer compositions in the future; they are certainly at their most interesting when samples continuously pass by, held together by rhythm and momentum.
An intriguing album, but I hope to see more of the longer tunes in the future.
Listen/purchase via bandcamp: https://kitrecs.bandcamp.com/album/city-of-all-times