Absent City’s debut full-length, Continue Normal Living, is an album of tender dreams and precarious schemes. In glimmering, intricate guitar pop, the record reveals itself to be many things at once: prophecy and lament, declaration of hope and survey of self-limitation, a course toward an inscrutable future and a spotty odyssey of unexpected return.
The story of Absent City begins in 2014, a decade after Henry Freedland fled his native Bay Area to make a go at the East Coast. That year, as a songwriter and frontman for Brooklyn dream pop band Tiger Dare, Freedland celebrated the release of Wires Over, Wired In, whose “sunny but wistful” songs Stereogum credited with having “a knack for giving small gestures a huge emotional payoff.” Pitchfork said the music “makes one’s brain believe that time travel is a realistic possibility,” likening Freedland’s playing to the Velvet Underground, Yo La Tengo, Real Estate, and the Clientele. Noisey noted that the sound was like the “backdrop to any cinematic montage where the heroes accept what’s happened and get on with their lives.”
Turned out that was exactly so: those folks got on. Tiger Dare fractured into component members. And as it did, Freedland found that his moorings had gone ghostly. Newly bandless, he was overworked at an impossible job, romantically wrecked, and isolated by anxious inaction. At odds with New York—land of his parents and grandparents, which he’d tried to adopt for himself—he faded out of view from his recognizable life, effectively going, in the words of an old friend, “undercover.”
But late at night in his tiny apartment, Freedland kept writing music that sought answers amid chaos. Songs about fighting anhedonia and dizzying insomnia and financial despair and a sense of abject failure. About imposter syndrome (“for years I’ve tried / to feel normal in their eyes / so I’ll fake it fine tonight,” in “Beam of Light”) and a heartsick experience of a cruelly inequitable world (“the terms of love / with the lands I’m of / have torn apart,” per “Solid Ground”). He built on Tiger Dare’s sound while echoing other personal sources of serotonin: the swooning craft of Luna and Slowdive, the delicate urgency of Electrelane and the Wrens, the fluid guitar work of Owen and the Durutti Column, the sunlit vitality of the Go-Betweens and the Zombies. On Continue Normal Living’s opener, “Inner World,” he may as well be describing this process: “Just trying to keep my mind / some lightning inner resource / when other comforts lied.”
This new work deserved a new project. Freedland soon started up Absent City, joining with drummer Liz Maynes-Aminzade and bassist Sam Bloch to make it all happen. Life’s promises slowly fell into repair, too—he fell in love, got engaged—bringing an uplift to the scene, a refound sense of wonder and possibility.
In 2018, the band began recording at Brooklyn’s Four Foot Studios with Tiger Dare engineer and producer Gabriel Galvin, a maestro of warm atmospherics. Late-night session by session, the album emerged, as Maynes-Aminzade’s Galaxie 500–esque percussion and Bloch’s scooping bass lines shored up interwoven layers of dreamy guitars and lush arrangements full of organ, strings, woodwinds, and more. With Galvin at the helm, the songs took dynamic form—building and retracting and then building back again twice as strong, earning their roiling bridges, bounding solos, and outros of thundering, grand release.
Then, as recording sessions neared completion, life again began leading Freedland to new places. He and his wife found out they were expecting their first child. They began planning to move back westward, to Oakland. And all of a sudden, it became clear this was the story the record had been foretelling all along. Notice had been lying in wait on songs of imagined plans, frantic escapes, journeys from city to fields of green—on the woozy, half-speed, surf-at-night anthem “California Afternoons.” “I’ve been searching for a future me,” Freedland sings on that track, “he’s been dreaming of his past with you.”
So it’s only fitting that Continue Normal Living should be the first release of new Bay Area collective label Homing Instinct Records. It is, after all, an album that gives the sense of somehow being nostalgic for tomorrow, a record of putting the pieces back together and finding they were more than they seemed—a new old endeavor from a strange familiar place.
Continue Normal Living
HI-001 | release date 10/9/20
Order at Bandcamp
Listen at Spotify, Apple Music, and all other streaming sites.
Bandcamp, “New and Notable” October 26, 2020
Dreamy, intricate guitar pop from Oakland’s Absent City; splashes of accordion, sitar, lap steel, and mandolin add textural richness.
Jangle Pop Hub, review of Continue Normal Living
Perhaps it is my response to increasing age, or even the way I have personally handled a pandemic, but beauty stirs my core more than dynamism or my anything that arouses my personal perception of cool, these days.
Henry Freedland’s (ex Tiger Dare) latest project, is one of a number to have made their mark with my new musical soul (ouch! just reading that back makes me reak of pretention, but I hope you get the drift) as the album is simply flooded in beauty from two interdependent directions.
Initially, there is the sheer swell of Inner World, Beam of Light and Empire Line that bend and juxtapose dreamy machinations with guitar pop strains and laconic, hushed vocal deliberations. Such tracks have absolutely no ‘lightning moments’ that startle the senses, but you somehow just feel like you are being engulfed in something special. Something better.
The second angle comes from the tracks that add chiming jangled riffs into the equation. Here California Afternoons, Ticker Tape Parade and No Harm allow this more muscular guitar style to flirt with indie rock bombast, whilst eventually settling upon a stunning sense of cinematic. These tracks are truly gorgeous.
Absent City are one of those acts that you crave more of and quickly, but concede that this sort of music has to ‘grow’ over the course of time and for that, we are ultimately likely to be truly thankful.
Gossamer, recommendation of Continue Normal Living
I have no idea when Absent City wrote the lyrics to “Ticker Tape Parade,” the first single off their debut LP Continue Normal Living, but if the line “If I can leave this house today / throw me a ticker-tape parade / nothing ever seems to change” doesn’t feel like it was pulled directly out of your soul through your COVID-swabbed nasal passages, then I would very much like to quarantine wherever you are quarantining. This is an album for slow, same-seeming days and the memory of sun on your skin from the last time you went to the beach and ate heavy and mellow edibles with friends.
For the Rabbits, premiere of “Ticker Tape Parade”
While a ticker tape parade might normally be a cause for celebration, Absent City’s version is a distinctly wistful affair. The whole thing is bonded together by the rhythm section, as the bright splashy drums and tight-knit bass-lines produce a core around which meandering, dreamy guitars, keyboards, and Henry’s easy vocal are given room to express and soar.
Lyrically, the track is rooted in the everyday grind, Henry torn between celebrating the successes and fleeing altogether. At the song’s opening he finds positivity in small victories, noting, “if I can leave this house today, throw me a ticker tape parade”, although as the song progresses the weight of it all seems to grind down his resolve, “they’re closing every door while we get this wrong, and I want to go home, to the only ship I know”. Absent City’s music seems to exist as a journey, a place where hope ebbs and flows, looking longingly for a future that might never exist, looking rosily at a past that perhaps wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Wherever this journey takes them next Absent City’s route to make it here has already been a fascinating one.
Matt LeMay, Brooklyn Diasporism, recommendation of Continue Normal Living
Absent City, Continue Normal Living (2020): The title kinda says it all; this record was intended to be a balm, and it is a balm, and it is just so lovely and comforting without being naive or heavy-handed. It’s a real tightrope act to make a record that feels needed and relevant in these times without self-consciously winking and nodding to “in these times”. I’ve been appreciating this record the same way I appreciate the plants in our living room, which I think/hope registers as the King Lear-style reverse-backhanded compliment it is intended to be. Start with “California Afternoons” and keep going.
The Wild Honey Pie, review of “Ticker Tape Parade”
“Ticker Tape Parade” by Absent City is one of those soft pop-rock numbers that would sound right at home soundtracking a partly cloudy beach day or the lull that strikes in the middle of road trips. The song has that oddly small Midwestern town vibe, like it found fun in itself in a place where there isn’t much else to do but look inside yourself and pull out the pretty parts that make your day memorable. The vocals are shrouded in some kind of demurity reserved for indie singers and songwriters.
I sat in a prairie throwing tennis balls into the spacious abyss for my beloved German Shepherd pup to fetch and bring back to me. I was home for the semester thanks to COVID, and this was my life now. Remote learning. The great outdoors was now my campus. The further I yanked my arm back to hurl the tennis balls yards away, the harder my dog ran to please me and bring me back the one thing I could never get tired of momentarily losing. I watched him gallop on four legs to the ball, but I never lost sight of his furry mane and sunny disposition. He stayed in shape this way, and I could always cuddle him. I was just a boy and he was just my dog and we were just stretching out the last few rays of sunlight on a beautiful fall day before it was time to go home and listen to “Ticker Tape Parade” by Absent City and do it all again tomorrow.
David Klion, Jewish Currents, discussion about Jewish identity in music and debut of “Inner World” music video (read the full interview here)
Brooklyn-founded, Oakland-based band Absent City’s gentle, ethereal album Continue Normal Living came out this year. Absent City’s frontman, Henry Freedland, is a lefty Jew who has incorporated the anxiety of the pandemic into the video, a collage of found footage ranging from Coney Island to Los Alamos to the Soviet Union (although the album was recorded pre-pandemic, its theme of living amid an unfolding disaster was prescient in retrospect).
Electric Sound of Joy, feature of “Empire Line”
Bearing more than a passing resemblance to the hushed twilight ruminations of The Clientele, Bay Area trio Absent City make understated but beautiful music on new one “Solid Ground.”