As the opening guitar riff of Citizen’s “Jet” meanders out, the group’s third record makes its start in straightforward fashion. In a way, it’s reminiscent of a jet, rumbling head-on toward its destination. The chorus reflects the song title, soaring like a jet over craggy instrumentals. All parts combined, the Mat Kerekes-fronted Ohio band has made a triumphant return with an indie rock focus.
In 2015, comments were tucked within YouTube videos suggesting Everybody Is Going to Heaven was the quintet’s The Devil & God Are Raging Inside Me. It was a hasty move to characterize their sophomore effort in such a way. If we’re comparing any band to Brand New, we need to know we’re right first (and trust me, we’re always going to be wrong about that). Heaven was an exploratory effort that had a lot of good intentions but didn’t have any epic “Limousine” crashes or “Welcome to Bangkok” fuzz-romps. Unlike “Jet,” its dabbling came without destination.
The best thing Heaven gave us was an album cover that made for a fun experience substituting the subject’s eyes (most notably Ash Ketchum). The group spent too much time on the record building up melodies while leaving hooks behind, and they went down a lot of foggy roads without coming out the other side. It’s unfair to merely call Heaven a disappointment, as its ambition is certainly commendable. Still, at times, the album simply became lost in the clouds (see “Heaviside”), and As You Please is a comforting to return to the ground.
It’s not only the opening track that makes that makes a stronger impression than its preceding record, but throughout the remaining 45 minutes, an indie rock flair — combined with Citizen’s typical grungy emo self — makes it far more memorable. No longer is the atmosphere at the center; instead, guitars serve as the generic guide throughout the LP’s duration. Songs like “Medicine” and “Fever Days” may start out earthy and simple, but as they turn into full gear, they grab ahold of listeners with crafty choruses and jolting transitions.
Citizen isn’t the first band to stand out this year with such a stylistic indie rock uptick. Look at Oso Oso, another emo-tinged outfit who broke through the noise with a sound both laidback and hook-laden. I imagine the band only listened to Weezer’s Blue Album when writing The Yunahon Mixtape, as there isn’t a moment when glistening guitars and pop sensibilities don’t charm.
“Reindeer Games” is by far the most charming cut; no other song in 2017 has matched its rocky sheen (plus, it’s hard to get out of your head). Go through the rest of Yunahon, and you’ll find similar moments of palm tree bliss. “The Bearer of Truths” brings its guitars to the forefront, with wires of chords wrapping around the song’s insides. Not only are the songs aesthetically appealing, but they’re also incredibly memorable. Taking the group’s indie rock execution into account, it’s hard to argue that many other bands — apart from Citizen, perhaps — are on their level.
Perhaps the only band to surpass both of them is the almighty Brand New. While their first album in eight years, Science Fiction, is difficult to categorize, hints of indie rock legends Modest Mouse (“Same Logic/Teeth” and “451”) and Pavement (“No Control”) heighten the notability of the genre in ways that only their Long Island mystique allows. But as a forefather of 2000s emo, they’re far from their Deja Entendu days; nowadays, we see them organically going from Simon and Garfunkel backcountry folk to alternative rock drenched in feedback and audio samples.
When it comes to contemporary emo affiliates, we saw many of them start stripping down a few years ago. In consecutive years, Pianos Become the Teeth, Turnover, and Gates all increased focus on atmosphere through post-rock and dreampop to solid results. In 2016, Balance and Composure brought enticing, chromatic lo-fi to the table, and earlier this year, The Maine channeled their inner Third Eye Blind to produce their best effort yet.
The constant change has been fun to watch, and it makes sense why. Beyond a musical style, emo is an attitude built on authentic expression. We’re always evolving as people, meaning that bands rooted in this attitude are always evolving as well.
Without drastically changing, Citizen proves that with As You Please, letting a guitar-rock sound grasp everything around it. They also hold onto the best characteristics of their previous efforts — from Kerekes’ brawny yells to the thumping guitar-bass clash that helped songs like “Figure You Out” resonate back in 2013. There’s a bit of Heaven-esque experimentation with the hovering melodies in “Ugly Luck.” There’s even an inward glance at the frontman’s recent solo material in closer “Flowerchild.”
With album three, Citizen begs a question: Where do other bands in the alternative and emo realm go next? It’s going to be interesting to see. The Ohio natives have impressively executed on this record, and it may even boost their status as one of the better bands in the scene — something that, with this return to form, they surely deserve. But with a sonically smart and focused approach, it may also be a strong statement for the future of indie rock as well.