By Leah Solomon
At various points in your life you need that album that evokes such raw emotion that it makes you want to sit in the middle of your bedroom floor and ugly-cry until the morning comes. As an experience, it’s cathartic as all hell and often comes at a time when you need it most, falling into your lap at the most random moment, sometimes when you are sitting in a very public place and there’s no going back when the dam walls of your eyes have burst. For me, that album is City and Colour’s, Little Hell.
My first encounter with City and Colour was with the song ‘Weightless’. My grade 12 boyfriend put it on a mix CD he made for me. At the time I was really freaked out and disgusted by this diabetes-inducing, sweet gesture. In retrospect, it’s all thanks to him and our short-lived, three month relationship that I have fallen in love with this musician.
I listened to that CD maybe once or twice, out of courtesy to him. But, three years later while I was moving into my new place, I plugged in my sound system and found “Leah’s CD of kiff music, because I dig her and think she is kiff” in the CD slot. After holding my hand to my face, trying to stifle embarrassed laughter (even though I was completely alone), I pressed play. Obviously 17-year-old me was a bit quick to judge, because that is the best mix CD I have ever heard, especially since City and Colour made the cut.
I listened to only that song for a while. I realised that if I loved it so much that I should probably find more. I was sitting in the writing labs of the journalism department at Rhodes University with some time to kill. I decided to start doing some City and Colour research. I really shouldn’t have done that. I started to listen to the album on YouTube and with each song I grew more emotional. At one point I burst into tears, surrounded by a number of my classmates. So, before I proceed, do NOT listen to this album in a public place.
‘Little Hell’ is a topsy-turvy, emotional joy-ride. Dallas Green, former guitarist and vocalist for post-hardcore band Alexisonfire, has successfully managed to tear down the towering walls that protect people from acknowledging their true emotions with this album. I wish it could be pinned down to one facet, his voice, his strumming, his chords. But, it is the perfect combination of all of him that makes this album so haunting.
Most of the songs on the album start off simply and slowly. He eases you into his songs and rides the waves of his melodies with you. He never leaves you to navigate his musical messages alone. He makes you feel like they’re written for you. He makes great use of ‘you’, ‘we’ and ‘us’ in his lyrics, which creates an inclusive element and makes listening to the album more intimate and personal.
A common trend in his songs is dramatic breaks. His songs usually start with just him and his guitar, holding your hand and caressing your cheek. These breaks trick you into thinking that the song is over. So the track pauses for a few seconds and you start to reflect on the narrative of emotions he has taken you through. You use this break to recollect yourself, but he unexpectedly whisks you up again. After a moment of silence, a tsunami wave of instrumentals hit you, and he grabs you and pulls you close. The last minute of the song is even more powerful than the former. You can fight it all you want, but it is best to give in and let yourself crumble in the sturdy embrace of his music.
What makes this album so haunting is that you know that he isn’t performing for anyone in particular, but it sounds as if he is performing just for you. The echoey effects and harmonizing synchronise beautifully, giving his gentle voice a lot more body. His imagery is beautiful. He manages to paint a vivid picture, one that you could jump into if it were drawn on the pavement. “Those lines etched in your hands, they’re hardened and rough, like a road map of sorrow”, from ‘O’Sister’ is just one example of how he manages to send you down a river of paint, with a paintbrush as your oar.
I would recommend this album to anyone who not only needs a good cry, but could also use some musical company while doing so. And best believe, City and Colour won’t judge you for it.