Review: Sister City – Carbon Footprint (2011)
The Awkward White Boy’s Burden: Writing Poetry with Nothing to Say
Adam Linder, songwriter for Sister City, is “that guy.” The guy at the party, who upon finding an acoustic guitar, sits in the kitchen with a PBR tall-boy asking for requests that invariably lead to covers of Elliot Smith, Ry Cooder, and a “couple of tunes he wrote himself…check ‘em out.” Thankfully for us, Linder seems to fully realize that he is “that guy,” offering a refreshingly self-aware introspection into the mindset of a white, hyper-literate, finger-picking, Dashboard-confessional-before-they-went-mainstream, “guy.”
The guitar tone is painted in broad strokes of hollow acoustic strums and thrashing distortion, doubled for much of the record. When it doesn’t overwhelm the senses with slow crescendos into acoustic/electric walls of noise, it rests complacently in familiar, turn-of-the-century garage rock counterpoint: emo arpeggios (you know…that clean guitar tone you hear on every Hawthorne Heights tune). While certain instrumental aspects of the album lack nuance, the sense of dynamic contrast is laudable; the bastard knows how to make a song climax. The interplay with drummer, Daniel Abzug, is commendable as well; One gets the feeling that Daniel had to drag Adam out of bed every morning, boosting the self-esteem of the neurotic bard with complements to record the gorgeous vocal harmonies that permeate the record. Really, were Sister City not utilizing such an over-used sonic texture (early 2000′s emo), I would have nothing but praise for the musical aspects. I’m curious to see where the album could go if Adam wrangled the diverse perspectives of a full band together to play his lyrical meditations on having nothing to say.
That’s not an entirely fair statement…were it to go unexplained:
Carbon Footprint exemplifies the struggle every white, college-educated, 20-something with musical ambition faces. Adam obviously has all the tools necessary to create a solid rock song, one with creative word play and surprising structural twists at that. What he doesn’t seem to have, however, is the raw artistic inspiration fetishized in rock n’ roll poetry.
However, instead of relying on fabricated inner conflict, he shows his cards and reflects on a common thread among young artists: A massive urge to create without having anything interesting to express. The first-world futility is bone-shatteringly gorgeous, mostly because it feels so genuine. When depression has commercially beneficial implications, it can be hard to take seriously. Hearing a songwriter question whether or not he even has the chutzpa to compose a refrain rings true. Overall, his self-doubt seems to stems from an insecurity in his artistic faculties, his role as a poet, and his ability to relate to ANYONE. The title, Carbon Footprint, is telling, perhaps suggesting that only impact he may leave on the world is that of environmental destruction.
This is a record for anyone who had every opportunity to be an artist but failed because they had nothing to express. Sister City’s reflection on this very dilemma is enlightening and poignant, but mostly just heart breaking; The musical equivalent of Stuff White People Like. It’s also the most honest record I’ve heard in years and is definitely worth a listen.
 What bears repeating/Isn’t something I am sure/I’ve got a good grip on/So what right do I have to put a chorus in my songs?/But sing along, sing along-[Track 3]
 So I’m scared by middle age/that I’ll have nothing left to say/I hope that I remember how to read/And I hope that I still have my memory–[Track 9]
 Who am I to give advice?–[Track 3]
 Cause if we stopped to go to sleep I think we’d lose our empathy And lately, I have been adhering To rules of sleep and L.C.D.s And stolen vocal melodies
I am perfect, but I am not blameless-[Track 10]