The City on Film – American Diary EP

The City on Film
American Diary EP

The City on Film has been a solo outlet for the prolific and multi-talented Bob Nanna even during his days fronting Braid and later Hey Mercedes. It wasn’t until after Hey Mercedes broke up, however, that Nanna finally was able to release the debut full-length under the City on Film moniker, In Formal Introduction, last summer. I didn’t have the chance to hear that release, but

The album opens with “Mary, I’m Ready,” a deliberately low-fi affair, with Nanna’s voice softly muted and accompanied only by his acoustic guitar, some tape fuzz, and the sound of a dog barking at its end. It’s really an intro, as “Pony’s Last Trick” is vintage Nanna. Now you get the stellar, crisp electric guitar, upbeat rhythms, and Nanna’s own unique vocal styling. A little more gentle than the hardcore-hinting Braid or emo-styled Hey Mercedes, this track owes a debt as well to Bob Mould’s solo offerings. It’s a fantastic song that epitomizes the songwriter’s new direction.

On “Astray! Astray!”, a bouncy, bass-driven song and an emphasis on the vocals takes American Diary in an even better direction. I’m reminded, to some degree, of Buffalo Tom’s style of pop-rock songwriting. If that throws you a little, the blazing guitars and rock-driven sound of “You’re Gonna Need That Patience Soon” is right out of late Braid and every bit as good. The softly flowing “Well, it Goes Like This” shows a mellow, almost textured style, and “Conclusion” finishes off the too-short EP by coming full circle and picking up the gentle sounds of “Mary, I’m Ready,” only shifting seamlessly from acoustic guitar to piano.

Bob Nanna has constantly honed his songwriting skills, ever since that first incohesive yet insanely appealing Braid album. The City on Film showcases Nanna – backed by musicians that include members of Minus the Bear – keeping to his indie-rock roots but adding more emphasis on the singer/songwriter styles that draw from Bob Mould to Elliott Smith in an oddly cohesive and comforting way. It proves Nanna’s songwriting skills are at their peek and still getting better. This is a highly enjoyable release.