Review: Signs to the City, “Not Made Of Miracles”

Signs to the City - Not Made of Miracles

Team GDW recently received a copy of “Not Made Of Miracles,” the debut full-length album from Signs to the City, and I was curious to explore the music of this Winnipeg based alt-rock band.  Previously performing under the name ‘The Jarrett Lobley Project,’ lead vocalist/keyboard player Jarrett Lobley leads this four-piece band (Joel Klassen/guitars, Earl Pereira/bass and Tim Iskierski/drums) for this impressive debut that combines an alt-rock sound with a strong emphasis towards the synth-rock genre from decades past.

Experiencing the twelve original tracks on offer, my initial impression was that Signs to the City were another band attached to the rediscovery of the heavy synthesizer-centric sound popularized in the late 1980s.  This trend, after all, has been embraced by many alternative artists over the last few years, and has brought the influences of yesteryear back to the modern day musical mainstream (examples include Dear Rouge and The Darcys).  Giving the twelve tracks on “Not Made Of Miracles” a second spin, I started to question my initial thoughts; there is an undeniable nod to this genre still present, yet much more to be discovered when delving into the core.

As a music blogger, when sampling new music, it is natural for me to search for specific sounds and influences that draw immediate comparisons to music that shares some familiarity.  This is certainly the starting place for recognizing a particular genre and musical identity being projected.  Finding one or two examples of 80s synth would normally be enough for me to reach such conclusions, but with “Not Made Of Miracles,” the more I listened, the more reasons I kept finding to not attach a ‘retro-synth bandwagon’ tag to their music.  The keyboards are certainly dominant, but as far as sounds and styles, I experienced a musical sensory-overload, detecting hints of third-wave ska music (circa 1980s), alt-indie and pop-rock (circa 1990s), and modern day alt-rock.

Go ahead and sample both “Dark Water” and “Never Awake,” two tracks from the album that influenced my association with the 80s synth-rock sound, and set the foundation for the direction of my review.  “Never Awake” is a pure synth-centric number, while “Dark Water” has a more traditional piano sound (hints of Bruce Hornsby) that blends well with the vocal echoes and stunning closing effects.  But beyond these two songs in particular, almost every other track on the album offered much more upon repeated listening.  Take, for example, both “Darker Side Of Paris” and “Last Time,” which drew comparisons, at least for me, to the ‘third-wave Ska’ sounds as popularized by The Specials and Madness. Progression to the nineties indie and mainstream rock sounds can be found in both “Everyone Breathes” (complete with synth-distortion effects) and “Unstable” (lead guitar provokes a likeliness to U2), while “Dark Soul” and “Rockets” connect with modern alt-rock influences (“Dark Soul” in particular offered similarities to the vocal style of Hozier).

With such comparisons in mind, the point I am trying to offer here is that Signs to the City have such diverse musical influences that not only make their sound incredibly unique, but also incredibly interesting.  With so much cross-referencing of musical genres in any one song alone (let alone an entire album), even the most myopic listener could be swayed to explore more of these influences.  I confess to being an indie-rock junkie in the 90s, but had little time for 80s ska. However, I can spend time here enjoying those reggae-rock inspired tracks with as much enthusiasm as “Dark Soul.”  Jarrett Lobley has done a phenomenal job both discovering and fusing a vast array of musical styles, culminating in an impressive debut that deserves to be heard.

~ M

Visit Signs to the City’s website.

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