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City and Colour – Little Hell

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    Dallas Green is easily one of the most sophisticated musicians in the scene today. His main project, Alexisonfire, has proved to be one of the best aggressive bands around throughout the past decade. His acoustic side-project, City and Colour, proves he can create beauty on the other end of the spectrum, as well.

    Back in 2008, Bring Me Your Love was a soft, ambient, and ultimately poignant release, perfect for a fall evening or cold winter night. Now three years later, Little Hell expands the sound of BMYL, mixing a few bells and whistles with a handful of upbeat tracks to craft the best record City and Colour effort to date, a record now fitting for summer nights.

    At that, Little Hell is a dark ride through the night. Exploring the little hells and tribulations we all face each day, the record is ultimately a very cathartic and expressive ride, an escape from – and first into – the darkness that plagues everyone. Green expresses this throughout the title track, hauntingly repeating, “Will we get out of this little hell?” as the track comes to a close. It’s this eerie, recurring uncertainty and questioning that truly brings out the depth and beauty of Little Hell.

    Although the record is at moments full of melancholy, it is expressed in upbeat ways often, as heard on the single “Fragile Bird.” Beginning with a reverberating guitar tone and synth, “Fragile Bird” is a haunting nightmare – a plunge into the depths of the fears accompanied by the night. The Southern, more country-tinged “Natural Disaster” also explores a different side of City and Colour, paced by soft drumming and an electric guitar. However, although it sounds upbeat and breezy, “Natural Disaster” may be one of the darkest moments of the record, as Green sings of a broken home.

    Still, it’s the soft, stripped-down moments where Green truly shines, mainly due to the poignancy crafted in these moments. As Green sings, “Then there’s my father / He’s always looking on the bright side / Saying things like son, life just ain’t that hard / He is the grand optimist / I am the world’s poor pessimist,” the folky “Grand Optimist” proves to be the prime example of this. He continues saying, “I guess I take after my mother,” on what may be the most chilling moment on the record, with Green holding nothing back. Similarly, “O’ Sister” expresses this same type of brutal candidness. The words “My sister, what made you fall from grace / I’m sorry that I was not there to catch you” echo what may be the most vulnerable moment on Little Hell. With only the soft plucks of a guitar in the background, “O’ Sister” is without a doubt one of the most heartbreaking tracks yet.

    Vocally, Green sounds better than ever this time around, as “We Found Each Other in the Dark” allows his soft chime to truly resonate, again proving his versatile skill as a vocalist. Musically, the expansion of City and Colour’s sound due to various instruments used and experimented with also demonstrates a new creativity throughout the record, most notably heard on “Weightless.” Cleary, it’s the combination of the unique and experimental instrumentation this time around with Green’s soaring vocals that truly envelops us in the darkness that is Little Hell.

    The penultimate “Silver and Gold” is stripped-down to bare simplicity, only accompanied only by a soft guitar. As the sound of each string resonates over Green’s meek vocals, he sings of the disappearing of all things loved, while on the closing “Hope for Now,” Green expels “I’ve got a sickness pounding in my head / I’m at the mercy of the Gods / What would it take to live?” With only a soft piano melody supporting him before the final build-up, Green allows us to leave the darkness, singing of optimism and new hope as the record closes. After we leave the forebodingly beautiful place of Little Hell one thing is certain – this is City and Colour’s finest, most creative work to date.

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