originally written by Erik Highter
Electric Citizen take their name from the 1969 song “Death of an Electric Citizen” by the Edgar Broughton Band, and Sateen owes a great deal to the heavy acid psychedelic rock of that era. The connection is obvious from the get-go; “Beggar’s Need” begins with only a bit of classic fuzz distortion, and Ross Dolan’s guitar sets the stage for al that follows; six seconds of intro, straight into the main riff with drums, bass, and keyboards in perfect support. Six seconds later, and Laura Dolan bursts in, her multi-tracked vocals strong and clear. Electric Citizen have no intention of wasting time. Economy in the hard rock and metal milieu is hard to come by, but this is a tight, nine song, 37-minute album that flows from strength to strength.
While “Beggar’s Need” is a fine opening salvo, “Magnetic Man” is where the central influence on Electric Citizen first rears its unmistakable head. They love early 70s Pentagram. They’ve absorbed it well, and never sound like they’re aping Pentagram or any of the other touchstones (Sir Lord Baltimore, Kingdom Come, etc.) that spring to mind when it’s playing. But it’s noticeable in the song construction and in certain sounds and tones.
Electric Citizen also can’t escape some specific modern retro-rock comparisons. “Shallow Water” is reminiscent of Blood Ceremony, only with the keys dialed way, way, back. It’s a copout of sorts to mention another female-fronted band (even if there are now enough of them to almost be a genre of their own), but this song is so evocative of Blood Ceremony’s oeuvre that it’s inescapable. Similarly, their first single, “Light Years Beyond”, brings to mind Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats, or maybe Jess and the Ancient Ones; it’s a catchy blast of a tune, a head-nodder and hip-shaker in one.
Yet there is one notable difference between Electric Citizen and most of their retro-rock peers; there isn’t a whiff of the occult, Satan, or Hammer films about them. This is a rock band, not a dress-up carnival act. To be honest, it’s quite refreshing.
Now I rarely, if ever, turn down the opportunity to see a band I like in person. A live show – good or bad – can serve as a catalyst for my understanding of an album. I can focus on a drummer or a guitarist, and learn how their part works within the whole. While I may clearly hear a recorded composition, when I can see what each musician is doing onstage things just click. This proved to be the case with Electric Citizen, whom I caught on their recent tour with Fu Manchu.
It’s immediately obvious that sometime between recording and tour they’ve lost their keyboard player. Though the keys are mostly low in the mix on Sateen, they serve to fill the space not occupied by the other instruments. Like a gas, the keys flow around everything, and rarely does any other instrument have space to stand on its own. This is no longer the case, and the band is better for it.
With the keyboard tendons severed, the rhythm section of Nick Vogelpohl on bass and Nate Wagner on drums have more responsibility and a greater chance to shine. This is an amazing duo; fluid and limber, with both a sharp sense of timekeeping and serious swing. Vogelpohl’s bass lines are little treasures, serving both as counterpoint to Ross Dolan’s excellent guitar work and as a powerful punch when paired with Wagner’s drums. Wagner also comes more to the fore, particularly with his unexpected fills. He plays slow tom stomps in a burner of a cut, or light snares and cymbals amidst a crunching groove. It’s inventive and engaging.
Never was this more apparent than on the aforementioned “Shallow Water”; without the keyboard part, and with Vogelpohl’s bass more prominent, the Blood Ceremony comparison melted away. The result was a mean stomper, driven by Wagner’s pounding drums.
The only negative to the live set – and it’s a very minor one – was the vocals. Singer Laura Dolan obviously can’t be multi-tracked in a live setting, but whether it was the house sound man or the band’s decision, her vocals seemed a little too dry. She has a solid voice, but it needed more reverb to thicken it in the mix. The lack of heft was brought into further focus when echo was applied on set closer “Burning In Hell”. Immediately, her vocal presence leapt up a notch or two. Again, it’s a minor complaint, and based on the crowd reaction may have been more my personal quibble than an issue for anyone else in attendance.
Sateen is a good record, but those same songs practically roar into life from the stage. May Electric Citizen hold off the death foretold by Edgar Broughton for years and years to come.