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City And Colour
Little Hell
Vagrant Records
www.cityandcolour.ca


On his latest effort, Little Hell, Dallas Green uses a little production pixie dust to help augment his already proven songwriting skillset. While a seismic shift of this sort usually means a record destined for overcooked mainstream mush, in this case it accounts for a fine medley of intimacy and bite.

Alex Newport is due credit for his part in the prudent makeover. The master producer/mixer/engineer of Death Cab For Cutie and Mars Volta fame has invigorated Green's minimalist playbook and kindly spared us of the banality. The album as a whole is Green's best work to date. At times channeling Bon Iver, the album tiptoes from emo acoustic hymns to lo-fi laments. "The Grand Optimist," with its slide guitar and looming chorus synths, is a dark and edgy force with Green direly asserting, "I guess I'll take after my mother." "Little Hell" adds more of a pop sheen with bluesy John Mayer-esque lead guitar - something that might remind the listener more of 2008's Bring Me Your Love.

Little Hell, however, is most impressive when things are less predictable and less refined - as on "Fragile Bird." Built on a gritty fuzzed-out riff and driving chorus, the song is a formulaic nod to Death Cab. "Weightless" and "Sorrowing Man" are equally bewitching. Both songs showcase Green's vocal range and his knack for melodic imagery. "Silver And Gold" and "Hope For Now," perhaps resulting from an all-night Neil Young binger, are both eerily stirring and perfect - and can do no wrong. Each track is a striking testament to how much Green's music has matured.

For music purists, nothing could be more satisfying than hearing an artist break out of the refuge of his comfort zone. But for City And Colour fans waiting for Green's prodigal return to his roots, you might hold off on slaying the calf. It seems Green is in no mood for nostalgia.

-K.K. Coe

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