Spanning across their twelve-year career, fans have come to expect one thing from Toledo, Ohio’s Citizen – and that is the unexpected. The genre-hopping, style-chopping rock band have forever been in the state of an eternal evolution, never settling in one soundscape for too long lest anybody ever attempt to put them into a box. On their fourth full-length, Life In Your Glass World, Citizen have once again delivered a body of work that is, by virtue of the band themselves, impossible to summarise simply. So how do you begin to describe something that refuses to be labelled? Well… I’ll have to try my best.
As the curtains cue, Life In Your Glass World opens to an unnerving combination of drumming and synth. As the doors swing open to the world that Citizen have built on their fourth record, opening track “Death Dance Approximately” comes without warning. Cut from the same cloth as one of the album’s lead single “I Want to Kill You”, the song is a determined introduction to the latest transmogrification of Citizen. Like a wall of noise, it rushes ears with the force of a tidal wave, trapping listeners in the undertow – and that’s exactly where it wants you to be. Easing ever slightly off, track one gives way to dancey rhythm – the darkness that shrouded the song’s beginnings starts to dissipate as light filters in alongside the first introduction of vocalist Mat Kerekes.
Continuing, the album maintains its intensity as it soars into “I Want to Kill You”, painting the picture of a band that have reached their breaking point. Lashing out with an exhausted aggression that comes from a feeling of being used, it details the pressure of expectation when the band are pushed to give more than they ever could. As if in a race to reclaim control, the song rushes ahead, giving listeners no chance to catch their breath as it combines raucous drumming with searing guitar work, while the desperation in Kerekes’ voice screams for liberation.
While it progresses, it becomes ever clearer that the album is driven by an array of volatile emotion; frustration and anger, bitterness and resentment all bubble on the surface of Life In Your Glass World. They recall moments of powerlessness and vulnerability, instances where the band found themselves taken advantage of, times of struggle and turmoil – yet Citizen aren’t a band to look back over their shoulders regretfully in hindsight. Life In Your Glass World typifies an approach of unflinching fearlessness as it leaps from bold and brazen choruses to monumental instrumentals, harnessing hopelessness to seize back the band’s power to control their own future.
A moody piece built primarily on a platform of bass and drum, the aptly titled “Fight Beat” is a shining example of the band’s approach. The song is unnerving in its thinly veiled calmness. The synth throughout the song rings out like alarm bells. Yet it’s the subdued vocals of Kerekes that feel the most frightening. Although sounding seemingly sedated, there is an unavoidable venom in Kerekes’ voice as he spits “Cut off your big fat head, keep it as my souvenir”. It’s an aggression that we haven’t seen often from Citizen and despite the intensity of the imagery, the tranquillity with which the band execute such fraught emotion speaks volumes of their abilities as songwriters.
Though for every moment that the band charge forward at their own volition, there’s a much deeper sense of emotion that underlies everything that Citizen do on their newest record. The menace of the aforementioned “Fight Beat” builds dauntingly as its bassline swings heedlessly, while the vivacious “Call Your Bluff” feels high-spirited amongst shimmering guitars, using its buoyant tone as an attempt to shadow the vulnerability that simmers underneath the surface of the record. While it may not be immediately obvious, it’s these feelings of insecurity and despair that truly drive the album – not the agitation that faces outward.
And if you still don’t believe me, you needn’t look any further than the album’s title. On the surface Life In Your Glass World seems like a nod to Toledo, with the city the band reside in affectionately titled ‘The Glass City’ – yet it seems to stem more importantly from a major trait of glass itself; fragility. As explained by guitarist Nick Hamm, the overarching theme of the album deals with the band coming to terms with the frailty of everything that they hold dear – “Approaching the latter half of your twenties you start to notice that a lot of things are more fragile than you once believed, and how we find out these things more every day. It references the fragility that we weren’t ever considering, or that nobody ever considers until they hit a certain point in their life.”
Every song on Life In Your Glass World showcases not only the enormous stylistic leap between the album and 2017’s As You Please, but the turbulent conditions that saw the birth of the band’s latest output. Between a global pandemic, endings of romantic relationships, the passing of family members, and perhaps most significantly the departure of multiple members of the band, there was an enormity of adversity faced by the trio in the lead up to their fourth record. So much so perhaps, that you could excuse Citizen had they called it quits before this moment. Yet instead, it’s this same change that shapes much of Life In Your Glass World.
From a studio built in the garage of Kerekes’ own home, Life In Your Glass World was also born from a recording process unlike any other the band had undergone, one that saw it created entirely in-house. The non-reliance on anyone other than themselves gave the band the time to create with more freedom than they had ever been afforded, resulting in an album that is not only entirely self-sufficient, but an all-encompassing exploration into the identity of Citizen. Leaping through genre ambiguously, more often than not on a single song, personality permeates through every single moment of Life In Your Glass World, every quirk and obscurity another building block in the construction of who Citizen have become.
And for those who weather the storm of Life In Your Glass World’s first ten songs it is the eleventh and final track, “Edge of the World”, that’s a perfect encapsulation of everything that prefaces it. Its optimistic outlook shines vividly against the melancholic hue that shrouds the majority of the album before it, like the first rays of sun shining through parting clouds. With a nostalgic glow surrounding, it builds gently, reminiscing on the past through youthful eyes all the while looking hopefully towards the future that the band have seized back control of. Resolute drumming and glimmering guitar weave around Kerekes’ vocals as the album blossoms into a grand finale, one final declaration that defines the entirety of Life In Your Glass World – “At the end of the day, there was beauty in tragedy.”
In a literal sense, the album’s closer is an incredibly visceral visualisation of Citizen standing on the edge of the unknown and just before you get to see the band dive headfirst into the darkness it ends abruptly, once again cloaking the future of Citizen in the mystery they have forever been comfortable in. It marks the end to Citizen as we knew them and represents a brand-new chapter for a band in complete control of their own destiny – as guitarist Nick Hamm puts simply, “It really feels like the sun coming through the clouds a little bit and I feel like that’s right about where we are as a band.”
To quote “Action” Jack Barker in an episode of HBO’s Silicon Valley “If you’re going to shoot the king, you’d better be god damn sure you kill him.” Equipped with an arsenal of soaring choruses, roaring instrumentals, and the weight of an enormity of negative emotions, Citizen have taken aim at those who have done them wrong. With the confidence of a band that has navigated the numerous trials and tribulations that come with being in a band, they’ve come out on the other side even stronger as a result. For the purpose of the anecdote, Citizen have shot the king and taken their rightful place on the throne.
Life In Your Glass World represents Citizen’s unflinching approach to ambiguity and their unwavering approach to their art. Again I ask, how do you begin to describe something that refuses to be defined? Citizen are a band unlike any other and so it is fair to say that Life In Your Glass World is an album like no other. It is a culmination of the twelve years of work that have brought the band to where they are, the most defining moment yet in the history of a band that has time and time again proven they will continue to surpass the heights they once flew. It is a fearless act of self-definition, Life In Your Glass World IS Citizen.
The ending of “Edge of the World” left me hanging, it’s not a bad thing but damn Citizen, why’d you have to do me dirty like that?
An expansive exploration into Citizen, the range of the band is on full show. Their ability to make listeners feel such an intense range of emotions is arguably second to none. Huge instrumentals and the performance of a lifetime by Kerekes’s incredulous song writing – my jaw was on the floor the entire time. It gave me an excuse to write about Silicon Valley.