Tracklist01. We Found Each Other in the Dark
02. Natural Disaster
03. The Grand Optimist
04. Little Hell
05. Fragile Bird
06. Northern Wind
09. Sorrowing Man
10. Silver and Gold
11. Hope for Now
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Life must be good for Dallas Green. With the pipes of a cherubim begotten from the fertile loins of Zeus and a penchant for songwriting rivaling any of the great folk acts of the past few decades, his solo project, City and Colour, has captivated and enthralled the hearts and minds of a whole generation. His debut album Sometimes was a raw, nervy, but unforgettable affair, while his follow-up Bring Me Your Love brought us a more focused and mature Green; but, is his new album Little Hell a little slice of heaven? Well, what do you think, Paul?
Paul: Dallas Green clearly knows how to write beautiful music, and hopefully, for the sake of so many people's hearts and souls, will continue to do so. His first effort Sometimes was, as you say Zach, very raw in a great way. It's hard to get songs like "Save Your Scissors" out of your head, and with Dallas's second album, Bring Me Your Love, he continued the trend with more mature tracks like "Sleeping Sickness" and "Body in a Box." And after a long, very anticipated wait, Dallas is finally back with Little Hell.
It's a brand new feel for City and Colour. "We Found Each Other In the Dark," the opening track, starts off the journey with a subtle feel that will stay with the listener the more times they go through the album. Even though tracks like "Natural Disaster" and "Fragile Bird" stray from the path and chart into the unknown with more musicianship than ever before, they end up finding their way home in the end. The single "Fragile Bird" may have had previous listeners running for their lives on first listen, but the track flows through the album effortlessly. There is still plenty of balance between Dallas's acoustic greatness and his new attempts at a more rock-driven track.
That said, you probably won't be singing along to every song after only a couple times through as I did with Bring Me Your Love. Dallas's voice is subtle in almost every song. It isn’t that the emotion is completely gone, but not every song is clear-cut, sing-a-long material like in the past; the tracks that make up Little Hell are deeper. Every musician writes about his or her thoughts, and if anybody can do it by putting them into a grand chorus of emotion and art, it's Dallas Green. Unfortunately, there is a feeling of loss when comparing this album to Sometimes and Bring Me You Love.
Zach: I see what you’re getting at, Paul, especially in regard to the unfamiliar subtlety of Green’s vocals. At its heart, for the first time the star of a City and Colour album is the instrumentation. The album’s tracks are remarkably diverse, much more so than the last two albums, and the new tinges of rock Green has infused into the songs that you singled out, “Natural Disaster” and “Fragile Bird,” are certainly welcome. Likewise, the soulful swagger of “Grand Optimist” and “Weightless” bring unseen new dimensions to Green’s solo work. On top of that, his lyricism is as powerful as always. From the frustration and concern evident in “Fragile Bird” to the beautifully nihilistic “Silver and Gold,” in which Green deals with the fallout of a dream about nuclear holocaust, his lyrics continue to mature—just another generous layer of paint to add to the canvas that is his art.
But, let’s be honest, the reason people listen to City and Colour is Green’s voice, which, as you said, is more subtle and controlled than ever, perhaps to Little Hell’s detriment. His vocals are much more of an instrument, complimenting the stellar songwriting, which I can appreciate to an extent, but there are several instances on Little Hell when all I want is for him to let loose and really give an emotional performance instead of a technically proficient one. There is just something intangibly potent and poignant about “In the Water, I am Beautiful,” that not a single track on Little Hell manages to match. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an incredibly worthy album, but I’m left unsatisfied.
Paul: Agreed. The album feels split two ways and on two completely different spectrums. On one side there is a slightly new part of Dallas with hints of rock and tracks that the listener may have to adapt to. On the other side you have the widely known acoustic Dallas but with softer, slower, and much more technical songs.
This album seems very “thought-through,” almost too much, and with all the subtlety of his voice, it feels less emotional. On some songs his vocals are even very much in the “background” of the entire song, almost like an afterthought. It's still City and Colour, but something has definitely been lost on the emotional end of things. I have to give it a 3.5.
Zach: Interestingly enough, in regard to Little Hell being very “thought-through,” Green did invest a lot of time and effort into recording this album, not only in meticulously choosing the space in which he’d record, but also the medium: analog tapes (a medium that ended up frustrating him to a point). And this increased level of control might be an apt analogy for Little Hell on the whole. It seems that this time around Green spent too much time in microcosm, lovingly ironing out the minor details. As much as I appreciate the time and attention he put into Little Hell, in the end, it’s a great album that feels calculated and safe. But I’d still give it a 4.
--Zach Roth and Paul Sombke