Drab City build a bleak but dreamy world on Good Songs for Bad People | Music Review | Chicago Reader

Drab City build a bleak but dreamy world on Good Songs for Bad People 

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click to enlarge Drab City

Drab City

Courtesy of Bella Union

To some Chicagoans, “Drab City” might sound like the name of a pickup band that plays melancholy covers of Will Oldham and Joanna Newsom tunes, but it’s actually a Berlin duo that specializes in an understated, lo-fi combo of cinematic trip-hop and folky dream pop, flavored with a little jazz and some fuzzy samples. Multi-instrumentalists and producers Chris Dexter Greenspan (who helped pioneer witch house as oOoOO) and Asia (who performs as Islamiq Grrrls) hatched Drab City after joining forces on a 2018 collaborative album under their stage names; that record, Faminine Mystique, is eclectic enough to incorporate 80s metal-ballad guitar and Auto-Tuned vocals from one track to the next without seeming incoherent. The artists carry this taste for variety over to Good Songs for Bad People, their first album as Drab City, and from its first moments it's clear they want us to immerse ourselves in their sepia-tone world rather than peek in from outside—instrumental opener “Entrance to Drab City” plays like a warped record unearthed in a dusty attic. That exploratory tone defines much of the record, whether the tracks lace their charming pop melodies with smoky keys and twangy guitar (“Hand on My Pocket”) or feel like they could fall apart at the seams (“Devil Doll”). Though heartbreak and despair are familiar bedfellows in Drab City’s lair—the synth-driven “Standing Where You Left Me” could be a B side to one of Martin Gore’s more yearning songs—there’s some scrappy resilience too. Greenspan’s vocals give a laid-back stoner vibe to “Live Free and Die When It’s Cool,” which dovetails with the tune’s grooving, psychedelic interlude to give it an uplifting feel—despite its bleak lyrics about alienation and struggle after migrating to a new city.   v

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