Vinnie Caruana, revered frontman for some of our scene’s most beloved pop-punk bands (The Movielife, I Am The Avalanche), is musically and stylistically working to stretch himself outside his pre-existing boundaries this year. With City By The Sea, Caruana manifests his musical tradition and life ethos in a fresh aesthetic trademarked by his acoustic guitar and a number of other auxiliary instrumental elements. Sonically, he’s crafted tracks that edge on folky but are still saturated with the punk sensibility that Caruana is noted for in much of his work; one could easily liken them to the work of Frank Turner.
Despite the six-song EP being billed as a solo effort, the songs are all fully clothed, each one featuring much more than just a voice and a guitar. Caruana has already demonstrated his comfort with guy-and-guitar solo work in his myriad acoustic performances, and one can definitely appreciate his effort to add more musical facets to songs with a great skeletal structure.
Opening track “Somehow the World Keeps Turning” packs a pretty heavy emotional punch with a good dose of soul, commencing the EP with an absolutely classic Caruana solo feel. The acoustic guitar carries us through the verses, while the choruses pick up some more instrumental elements in the form of keys and light percussion, complementing the slightly melancholy melodies. It’s a slower-paced way to begin the EP, but don’t mistake the pacing for lack of drive or energy; the desperation at the end of the song is palpable, coming through especially in the vocal delivery: “The war inside my head keeps waging / and somehow the world keeps turning.”
The rest of the EP boasts the same approach, demonstrating Caruana’s unflinching grasp on… something. “To Be Dead and In Love,” a song that previously only existed in live incarnations, is given new legs with the incorporation of several musical layers that thicken the song. In doing so, however, much of the sad-bastard desperation that shines through in the lyrics and dramatic vocal pauses is overshadowed by the inclusion of percussion and keys, letting the instrumental elements take away the song rather than let the emotional aspect drive it. The last two songs on the EP also fall prey to this, specifically in the form of electronic keys that are reminiscent of a church organ; they strike one as inconsistent with the style established over the course of the EP, and feel bossy and intrusive.
Sometimes less is more, and the simplest moments act as some of the strongest on City By The Sea. “Boy, You’re In Heaven” suggests a collaborative living-room performance with uncomplicated, rhythmic percussion and a brief piano entrance accompanying the ever-present acoustic guitar. And the EP’s most shining moment is the title track, where all the musical elements mesh together seamlessly to create a song that’s not oversaturated by one aspect or another, delivering a tone that’s simultaneously somber and wistful. The lyrics speak of Caruana’s relationship with his city and grounds the song’s doctrine in a physical setting; the ideas raised by permeating the theme of “home” throughout the entire EP is not just a Caruana signature, but is also timeless in nature.
Overall, City By The Sea is an effort to give fans the core of Caruana’s musical creed in a vehicle different than the one to which they are accustomed; the message comes through loud and clear, despite the means through which it’s achieved missing the mark from time to time. Regardless, the fanbase is loyal, longstanding, and will surely enjoy the EP as the songs are true to themselves and the context within which they were created, as well as being likeable and generally classic.
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