Desert City Soundtrack – Funeral Car

Funeral Car is an album about death and loss. Dedicated “for our loved ones who have passed,” the album treads the line between morose and ominous rock – laden with textured percussion, piano, and trumpet flourishes – and intense, emotional emo. With lyrics that speak of dying, of the afterlife, of loss and desperation, Funeral Car can almost be seen as something of a concept album, or perhaps better said as a thematic album. Those who like their music light and poppy will not appreciate Desert City Soundtrack. That being said, despite it’s heavy-handed theme, it’s clearly one of the most outstanding rock albums of the year.
What sets Desert City Soundtrack far above their peers is their willful disregard for anything resembling a traditional genre. Although three of its members played in the tragically overlooked emo band Edaline, Desert City Soundtrack is not easily classified as emo, although the lyrical content is greatly emotional. It’s not hardcore, although screams are common. It’s not pop by any means. Rather, it’s a hodge-podge of all that, made more unique by the reliance on piano and the bits of trumpet that add to the guitar and drums. And yet while the band’s previous brilliant mini-album was filled with intense rock, Funeral Car sometimes seems quieter, more melancholy.
That’s an odd way to describe DCS, because even in the album’s quieter moments – when piano lines drift over a hauntingly stark background, for example – you will likely hear singer Matt Carrillo screaming his lyrics. The production lends significantly to these songs, giving each an ominous depth, allowing the screams and pained vocals to be mixed low enough to never be ear-splitting and almost always decipherable. This is a band that can make music that is simultaneously lovely and frightening, intriguing and disturbing, yet always poignant and powerful.
Look at the opener, “My Hell,” for an example. Soft piano and guitar flow over a soft but intricate drumbeat and hints of trumpet. The vocals are soft as well, but it’s just the beginning, an intro as the album picks up with “Drowning Horses,” perhaps one of the most instrumentally varied songs, as it builds to an explosive climax on a wave of feedback and suddenly driving guitars and screaming backup vocals. That’s nothing to the furious blast on “Drawn and Quartered,” yet that song too changes in an instant, suddenly dropping to a morose combination of vocals and piano before taking off again. On “Dying Dawn,” the chorus of “So scared / scared of dying” comes across like a gunshot, reinforced by screamed backing vocals to add to the weight. The ominous “These Games We Play” starts off eerily, with recorded vocals played over piano and drums, and at six minutes it runs the course from soft to fast and frenzied, filled with fast-paced guitars and screams.
Split into two “sides,” the second half of the album starts softer, more pleasant with “Second Sickness,” and this side is a bit less heavy. “Casket” is another softer song, riding soft drums and piano, although the lyrics are still consistently dark, as the title may suggest. Still, “Something About a Ghost” is a more urgent, plodding song, with a nice mixture of piano, drums, and bass and a cacophonous chorus of screams (“How could you excuse the abuse? / How could you? How could you?”) and frenzied instrumentation. The stellar closing track, “Westpoint,” is a brilliant mix of intricate drumming, piano, and vocals. The song builds and crashes, taking on climactic blasts of guitars and shouts and drifting back to its moodier breakdowns. The repeated lines of “whisper / screaming” nicely sums up the feeling of the album as a whole. It’s the kind of ending that leaves you wanting another album’s worth of material while tying up the whole release satisfyingly.
As good as the band’s debut release was, Funeral Car is even better, realizing this band’s tremendous sound, fully compiling frantic energy and emotion with their unique instrumentation and perfect production. It’s a brilliant release: powerful, dark, intense, and cathartic. With a sound all the band’s own, Desert City Soundtrack has released what will certainly be one of my favorite albums of the year.