As she preps for the February 22, 2011 release of her second full-length album, Lamplight, Katie Costello has whetted her fans’ appetite with a new five song EP, The City In Me. Produced by multi-instrumentalist David Lamoureux, the songs explore the uncertainty, excitement, and feelings of displacement that accompany leaving one home to find another.
Much like her 2008 debut Kaleidoscope Machine, Costello’s songs are anchored by strong melodies. They meander unpredictably at times, always maintaining interest, but are grounded by her pop classicist instincts. With a vocal style that eschews showiness, her dry delivery matches the uncluttered, sparse arrangements of her songs. Never overproduced nor mired in trendy technology, this music could’ve been recorded decades ago.
“We Are the Way We Are” opens the set with a finger-picked guitar accompanying Costello’s singsong vocal line. She identifies strongly with her surroundings, likening herself to the old sidewalks and strong buildings around her. The lyrics are by turns resolute and questing. She declares at one point “we’ll always be here,” only to suggest the very next moment “let’s travel…far way from what we know.” By the end, a gentle trio of male vocalists beckon her toward the bright city lights, promising “I’ll be your night light.” The stage is set for the transitional atmosphere of the next song.
Opening with a soothing music box, “Lost & Far From Home” evokes a dramatic sense of unease via see-sawing tempo changes. The song title makes the subject matter clear, as the singer finds herself in an unfamiliar setting. Aiming to make her way “anywhere her feet could take her,” she moves forward despite the realization that she is emotionally unprepared. The delicate arrangement is augmented by somewhat mournful strings.
Melodrama gives way to surging exuberance with “Cityscapes.” The galloping rhythm of the verses creates a sense of forward momentum, only digging in its heels for the insistent chorus. “You make me better than I could be,” Costello sings of the cityscape that she feels at home within. Both the shortest and most upbeat track, “Cityscapes” provides a soaring midpoint to The City In Me before the EP quietly winds down.
A song about the pain of saying goodbye, “Ships In the Night” perhaps resonates the most strongly in terms of heartfelt emotion. Though the notion of two people passing “like ships in the night” veers very near cliche, Costello understands that the final sting of ending a relationship lingers on. Two elements of the song caught me off guard, solidifying this as my favorite of the five songs. The first is an eight-bar bridge, occurring only once, in which Costello promises she will haunt her friend. Almost monotonic, it contrasts perfectly with the rise and fall of the song’s chorus. The other delicious surprise occurs just as the song seems to end. After the final repetition of the chorus, Costello repeats the word “goodbye” as a kind of melismatic mantra, her voice duetting with the strings.
“How Do We Know” closes the set, with Costello musing that perhaps she hasn’t been the “best boss” of herself. She asks some tough, maybe unanswerable, questions about how one can determine if things are working out. Her conclusion is simple but true: what’s done is done, but we never stop dwelling on the past. In another ear-catching twist, the skeletal arrangement is fleshed out with a full band for its final minute and a half, complete with dirgelike backing vocals.
The City In Me is a solid collection of tunes that rewards repeated listening. The melodies, as well as the sentiments expressed in the lyrics, sink in deeper over time. Whether the EP is your introduction to Katie Costello or something to bridge the gap until Lamplight is released, these songs reinforce her talent. The City In Me is available on iTunes or through Costello’s official website.