It's not all that common for a musician to release his first full-length record at the age of 34, but that's exactly what Joel Ebner is doing. After nearly six years of false starts, mutations, and detours as City States, he's finally completed his debut LP, Geography. Maybe it's the perfectionism that took him so long. Or the fear of failure. Maybe he's a late bloomer. What's clear is that Ebner—along with the help of keyboardist / producer Steve Lund and drummer Mike Burmeister—has taken the time to create a capital-A Album: a meticulously-crafted record filled with nuance, surprise, and stylistic range.
City States began in Chicago circa 2008, initially started with a desire to branch out from the "four musicians in a room" aesthetic of Ebner's earlier band experiences, gravitating instead toward more studio-savvy projects like The Notwist and Death Cab For Cutie. Since then, he's followed through on that notion via the 2011 EP, Resolution, as well as several singles and cover songs, all the while opening shows for the likes of Doldrums and Au Revoir Simone.
Geography—which was mixed by John McEntire of Tortoise / Sea & Cake—is an album about change: it's an album about the desire to understand the contours of the world, and knowing how to respond when landscapes shift unexpectedly; roughly halfway through the making of the LP, Ebner's father died suddenly of a heart attack, and as a result most of the lyrics deal with notions of death, grief, and the struggle to find acceptance when losing someone close to you. Specifically, "To Remember" is inspired by the eulogy that Ebner gave at his father's memorial service, detailing the relationship they had via the Fender Jaguar his dad bought in the early 1960s.
Musically, the album leans heavily on classic art-rock albums of the last 35 years—with it's droning organs, ebowed guitars, and melodic synth arpeggios, Geography's arrangements bring to mind the likes of Stereolab, Brian Eno's Another Green World, and Remain In Light-era Talking Heads.
Photo: Michelle Kaffko