This Fair City describes its music as a Fugazi meets Sunny Day Real Estate ala Eastern Block. Thinking I missed some influential punk band called Eastern Block, I did some searching. But the band is referring to a European folk influence, presumably due to the ever-present viola that softens the band’s post-punk feel nicely. I don’t get an Eastern European vibe, but Fugazi meets Sunny Day is a nice starting point; think 90s emo with a post-punk heart, lent a creative bent by Charlotte Grahek’s viola and frontman Jason Franklin’s often higher-pitched vocals (he doesn’t quite hit Jeremy Enigk’s range, but they’re impressive in their own right).
The album starts strongly, with the strings mixing beautifully with the aggressive guitars on “What Comes Our Way.” Though the song descends into fairly standard post-punk, it’s a strong opener. “Tonight We’re Running Back” starts slower, more akin to late-90s emo, and although I like the band’s faster guitarwork, this song may work the best on the album for what the musicians are trying to do. Those aforementioned Fugazi influences come across in the bass-heavy “Quite Frankly,” which bears a little too much punk-rock attitude for my tastes. The nearly eight-minute “In Transit” that closes Broken Surfaces is a fitting bookend to the beautiful opening of the album. The band shows patience, letting the song build and flow excellently.
When Franklin screams, he’s got a purely metal feel, that kind of high-pitched screech that’s been in classic metal bands for 20 years and sounds terribly out of place on a post-punk album (see the nearly screeched climactic moments on “Associated Press”). Franklin’s vocals aren’t easy to understand; you need repeated listens to catch his lyrics at times, and that’s not a bad thing. They mix nicely with the music, and when he belts them out in his higher range, as on “Thank You Mr. King,” they provide an emotionally powerful counterpart to the driving guitars. But the higher tones tend to remind me a bit too much of prog-rock bombast, as on the otherwise excellent “Always.”
Broken Surfaces is a good, though not great, release. The best part here is the creative approach to mixing strings with post-punk intensity; truth be told, I’m a sucker for that kind of thing. But perhaps This Fair City tries to blend a few too many influences, and I keep coming back to metal underpinnings that just don’t work for me. Still, there’s more than enough excellent things on this EP to give me great hope for future releases.