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"I know you’d like if we just sat silent / and never challenged your ideas," asserts Rachel Rubino in the opening moments of Open City, the eponymous debut by the Philadelphia four-piece, over a blast of hardcore dissonance. “So here's how we feel, here’s what we want, here’s what we need: to be heard!” Open City is a project embedded with histories — people, places, sounds, scenes. Bringing together collective decades of experience in East Coast punk and DIY communities, specifically ones known for prying open the melodic sides of punk rock, hardcore and post-punk, the project is: singer and lyricist Rachel Rubino (Bridge And Tunnel, Worriers), bassist Andy Nelson (Paint It Black, Ceremony, Dark Blue), guitarist Dan Yemin (Paint It Black, Lifetime, Kid Dynamite, Armalite), and drummer Chris Wilson (Ted Leo & the Pharmacists).
“Hell Hath No Fury” is the album’s opening track, an apt point of entry to Open City’s ten tracks of dynamic post-hardcore and Rubino’s wide-ranging vocals, which fluctuate from shouts and screams, to melodic hooks and the occasional deadpan. “I've personally never felt like I fit into the binary of what a woman should be or do,” Rubino says, reflecting on the song. “I feel a strong desire to disconnect gender from talents and actions. I constantly want to find new ways of challenging myself, and through that to challenge the stale ideas others have placed on us. I refuse to do so in silence. I believe in the individual’s right to govern themselves based on what they feel is right and true to their vision of a positive reality.”
A shared ideology is central to Open City. The project grew out of a mutual desire for a band that rehearsed continuously, coupled with an urgent need for something faster and more aggressive than some of its members had done before. Yemin, Nelson and Wilson spent a year carving out the band’s sonic framework, searching for a singer who spoke their common musical language, one inspired by 90s basements and commitment to DIY as an ongoing process. By the time they found Rubino, they’d already linked up with Will Yip at Studio 4 to record the instrumental tracks for the record, fueled by eagerness, frustration, and utter necessity. The result is an album that moves seamlessly, full of thoughtfulness and careful rage.
Open City draws direct inspiration from a specific period in underground punk. “The most exciting shows I’ve seen in my entire life have been in basements in New Jersey, Philadelphia and New York, during 1991 through the early 00s. Specifically Sarah Kirsch’s bands,” Yemin says, speaking of the prolific punk songwriter who played in 12 bands over 20 years, including John Henry West, Torches to Rome, Bread and Circuits, and Fuel. “Those bands were really inspiring in terms of how she did things, what the records sounded like and looked like, the interface between content and design, and presentation and process. Most recently Mothercountry Motherfuckers, the posthumous record that just came out, that was my favorite record of the past few years.” In the early 90s, Kirsch’s music left Yemin in awe: for its aggression, for its melody, the energy, the things said on stage between songs.
Open City weaves in and out of pointed themes: sexism, not staying silent, but also the hollowness of words in the face of inaction. The stakes are high. “I am tired / and you are right / we’ve given up the fight,” Rubino scowls on “Nerve Center”. “Trading my cards in for other efforts / find a place where I can be more effective / What a fucking joke!” It’s a song that stares you right in the eye and couldn’t be better timed. "All these words they don’t mean shit when all you do is yell at bricks," Rubino screams on a cut that rallies against inequality, “Brother I'm Getting Nowhere.”
These are songs about sleepless nights, the reality of endings, about feeling stuck, honing on a purpose; about fighting, and then not fighting. “There's an inherent anger at the systems of oppression and abuse that constantly diminish and destroy the efforts of folks who are fighting for a better world,” Rubio says. “There's a deep disappointment for a lack of support and care from individuals in my life and in my community who I expected more from. There's a heavy dose of self-analysis, in a range from self care to self-loathing. Finding hope in strange places. Mourning loss along a timeline you cannot control. Trying to understand it. Admitting that I can't. It exists in that tense place where frustration is fighting apathy.”
- Liz Pelly