City Rain, the electro-pop alt-rock duo out of Philadelphia has released their highly anticipated full-length LP, Songs For A High School Dance. The duo is known for their beat-heavy, electro-pop sound and they deliver that sound in a big way on this album. But Songs For A High School Dance delivers a great deal more than just a big sound. The duo dug deep to find their voice as a band while making this album and this effort is evident in the focused and introspective nature of the record. This is an album as memorable for its raw emotion, hopeful message and stunning harmonies as for its arena-ready and hook-filled pop sound. Songs For A High School Dance is definitely an album everyone should hear – preferably turned up loud and on repeat.
City Rain is the talented duo of Ben Runyan (vocalist/keyboardist/programmer) and Scott Cumpstone (guitar/vocals). The two only began working together in early 2013, when Cumpstone joined the band following the departure of its guitarist. The dynamic nature of Songs For A High School Dance makes clear that these two artists have collaborative chemistry between them. Rather than delivering fast techno dance tracks layered with synthesized effects, Runyan and Cumpstone have crafted a vibrant album with a sonic story arc that effectively conveys a journey of survival through debilitating human emotions. It is an awesome album containing both mid-tempo tracks with raw vocals and delicate textures, as well as fist-pumping anthems.
The album’s first single was “The Optimist,” which in the band’s own words, is a song about: “… every man [‘s] capability to create his or her own personal hell “ and “to manifest redemption. ‘The Optimist’ is the story of the way back.” The official music video for this track created quite a buzz. The video won MTVU’s The Freshmen competition and was placed into full rotation on the station. The video aired between 20-30 times per week on MTVU’s Cum Laude tier (with an audience reach that includes over 750 colleges and universities across the US). In addition, a social media marketing campaign was launched with the song’s release. #TheresAnOptimistInMe was used not only to market the track, but also to help raise awareness of mental health issues, like depression.
There are a number of standout tracks on this album. “Join the Human Race,” “The Optimist,” and “The Dreamer” all are high-energy songs with the big, beat-heavy synth-pop City Rain sound. And all speak to the need to persevere and push through emotional pain and disappointment to find hope and the ability to reclaim your sense of self. There are also standouts among the more mid-tempo tracks. “Walls” is a track that I felt compelled to play on repeat every time I listened to it. The electric guitar and falsetto voice in the song combine to create a very cool and somewhat addicting vibe. “Hearts” and “Mama I Wanna Go Home” both utilize gorgeous harmonies to give a retro or folksy vibe. “Waiting On A Feeling” starts out slowly, but then breaks out a big sound full of reverb to become a feel-good, hands-in-the-air, electro-rock song with a dreamy chorus. And then there is the funky gem, “What’s In Store.” Full of fun guitar riffs and a great bass line, this energetic track sounds very different from anything else on the album, yet manages to fit in nonetheless.
Songs For A High School Dance is a big album, sonically and lyrically; an album about facing your personal demons and standing up to whatever may try to push you into despair or to give up hope. Ultimately the album’s message is that even though life is hard and it is difficult to maintain a sense of optimism and belief that “anything is possible,” it is in the act of pushing through adversity and pulling yourself back up that you will find continued hope, strength and a sense of purpose. It’s a great message, to be sure. But that the message is conveyed in dynamic, dramatic and authentic music – this is what makes this album great.