With its roots based in country and blues, Austin provides the perfect environment for Americana music to thrive. However, the genre has saturated the Austin market in recent years, making it difficult or acts to stand out on merit alone. With their debut EP City View, Those Poor Serfs try to break through into the Austin scene with pop sensibilities incorporated into a refreshingly classic sound.
Those Poor Serfs made their debut in 2014 with Live From Austin, Texas, and although City View might be their first studio project, each of the four tracks that make up its 16 minute run time were featured on their live debut as well. In comparison to their live counterparts, the tracks of this EP sound like carbon copies of their live counterparts. Americana doesn’t always translate from the stage to the studio, but Those Poor Serfs make it work.
This similarity in sound is likely because of the group’s simple and well-balanced lineup, consisting of the standard singer, two guitars, bassist, drummer and mandolin, practically a necessary instrument in modern Americana.
Nothing out of the norm happens between the four tracks, but the most shocking component of the group, if there is one, is lead singer Derek Kinsaul’s voice. When the first track “All Night,” begins, it’s a big of a shock to hear Kinsaul’s tenor vocals, which sound like they could go falsetto at any moment. By the end of one listen, Kinsaul’s tone is more soothing than shocking, helping ease the listener into an intriguing story of heartbreak.
City View follows the arc of a complex relationship, beginning with the initial buildup of the pre-relationship hype on “All Night,” where Kinsaul sings about trying to see the signs of mutual attraction in a woman. The story quickly fast-forwards into turmoil, with the romance falling apart in “Steel Bell” and trying to change the mind of the same crush during “Wakes Up”. The story ends with Kinsaul longing for lost love on “In The Winter,” ending the EP on a somber note.
However, without paying attention to the lyrics, City View sounds more revitalizing and joyful than disheartening. BJ Lazarus’ mandolin always plays a crucial role in keeping each song entertaining, and although it may be mixed a little too far back in the recording, it’s easy to pick out at all times. The guitar riffs and short solos from Coby Michalek also play an important role as the star of the EP, drawing the attention of the listener into the instrumentation of each song during otherwise standard interludes.
The juxtaposition of a warm sound and emotional themes makes City View an easy listen and welcoming to almost anyone who will give it a chance. Although it might not reinvent Americana music as we know it, the EP is a solid first effort for a band trying to find their way in a city full of competition.