Little Hell by City and Colour (Vagrant Records, 2011. 49 minutes)

Dallas Green – who performs under the ironic moniker, City and Colour – first entered the music scene with the post-hardcore Canadian band, Alexisonfire. Having already released two albums as a solo artist – Sometimes and Bring Me Your Love – Green has encountered considerable success in his native Canada. He has won a MuchMusic Video Award, Juno Awards for Alternative Album of the Year and Songwriter of the Year, and has been named artist of the year by Chart magazine.

Modus Operandi

Honestly, my critical modus operandi for music reviewing is based on structures, creative musicianship, and lyrics. If an artist exhibits strength in one area, I am able to enjoy the music. For example, I appreciate Bob Dylan’s lyrics while admitting that the rest of his music remains bland.
When it comes to evaluating Little Hell, Dallas Green produces decent lyrics, keeps a focused structure, but fails badly in its melodic creativity. Put simply, Little Hell contains fabulous verses and horrible choruses.

In Praise of Chorus

For most pop songs, the chorus anchors the composition. Its catchy and repetitive melody sticks in the listeners mind and engrains in them an infectious addiction to the song as a whole. Without a chorus, a pop song has no legs. After multiple months of review as I wavered between enjoyment and disinterest, City and Colour’s latest record falls short because of the chorus.
Sadly, despite Dallas Green’s angelic voice carrying profound gravitas, Little Hell’s choruses sound verse-like. Without catchy passages, Little Hell never gets off the ground.

Joy and Pain

Lyrically, Dallas Green explores the joy and pain of the smallest aspects of life such as romantic relationships to the big picture issues such as the housing crisis.
Most personally, Green sings of the night terrors his wife experiences in his first single, “Fragile Bird.”

“These cold nightmares / They make her worse for wear / Lost in the dark / She’s got a heavy heart / And when she wakes / In a fragile state / She calls my name / Hoping that I’ll keep her safe”

On a wider level, Green sings during “Natural Disaster,”

“The pipes have long since seized / The windows are all boarded up / There’s no electricity / Flowing through these lifeless veins / Cracks are running down the walls / Where picture frames used to hang / A hint of heartbreak still lingers in the air / And weeds have choked the breathe out of it long ago”

Rock Band

While City and Colour differentiated itself from others by an Americana-influenced folksy songwriting, Little Hell finds Dallas Green plugging in the guitar and creating music with a full band.
With the aforementioned lack of inventive choruses, the full band tunes feel dull and lack the intricacy necessary to stand out amongst an ocean of rock bands.
However, the tune, “The Grand Optimist,” portrays Green in classic form. Exploring the virtues and vices of his parents that he sees present in his life, Green’s voice finds itself rooted in the earthen finger-picking of an acoustic guitar. By far, it is my favorite tune on the record.

Explore the Back Catalog

Little Hell is rather disappointing. Considering the beauty of his previous record, I expected big things from City and Colour’s latest release. Whether by a lack of focus or a lack of creativity, Dallas Green wrote poor choruses and sought innovation in a lazy manner. Therefore, I suggest passing on Little Hell and, instead, listening to Bring Me Your Love.



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