Ezra Feinberg of San Francisco's Citay (say it like, say, Steve Perry would sing the word "city" — cit-aay) makes music that's been appropriately tagged "chamber metal." This breed of meditative shredder blends the sounds of old masters and new deviations on the rock theme into a coherent whole.
In Citay's grip, chamber metal offers all the intensity of the victory-lap guitar solos without all the aggression, thanks in part to recording pal and pro Tim Green of the Fucking Champs and Louder Studios fame. Citay's new record, Little Kingdom, follows in the wake of its eponymous debut, with sun-baked, intertwined electric and acoustic guitar riffs blazing atop gossamer vocal harmonies and tempered percussion. The title track references two of Feinberg's favorite acts: the song opens with a thread of Pink Floyd's "Fearless," while the backing singers (Citay often uses the cozy hush of a chorus over a single vocal) namecheck Heart's "Crazy on You." Another highlight, "On the Wings," opens with a pastoral acoustic melody before a charged electric-guitar duo gives the song a triumphant sheen. Feinberg's blissed-out Kingdom is an excuse to space out on eclectic visions of classic rock and classical guitar. It merges eras as easily as it does organic and electronically juiced instruments, which range from flutes and mandolins to the synth-axe and electric piano. "I want it to be intense and cathartic and epic," Feinberg says of Kingdom. "I want the audience to feel as though they've been on a journey, to feel transformed from the beginning of the set to the end."
Feinberg is indeed successful in enhancing grand mood shifts — but he doesn't use anthemic choruses with gospel singers, catchy phrases, or any other traditional radio-sticky structures to wall a song into memory. These tracks buoy listeners through the repetition of contemplative instrumentals for six and seven minutes a pop. Feinberg admits it's difficult to write a concise jingle: "I get carried away and I feel like I have to work with that. The arrangements unfold and unfold and unfold within a certain song; they're not written like traditional pop songs. This is the best that I can do as far as writing a heartfelt sincere pop album," he adds with a grin.
In the studio, Citay references some of the dinosaurs of rock 'n' roll like Led Zeppelin and Thin Lizzy. But when the group performs live, it also embraces modern rock — more specifically, some of the Bay Area's top local acts. Members of progressive psych, folk, and electro-funk acts pepper the Citay lineup, from Tussle and Three Leaves to the Dry Spells and Crime in Choir. They punctuate Feinberg's vision with local personality, and together form a communal web of acts worth discovering individually as well as within Citay.
Little Kingdom is an ebullient little world to occupy. And in wrapping up conversation with Feinberg, I asked him to open one more gateway. Here's a list of a few Citay favorites, past and present, local and otherwise. (No, Journey is not on the list. Sorry.)
"I have a lot of respect for people in rock 'n' roll who are really particular about exactly what they want. Mike Oldfield is a lost hero of prog who was really popular at one point. His Tubular Bells album was like two 20-minute-long songs. Hergest Ridge by Mike Oldfield is a huge influence on Citay; it's really beautiful. It's not bombastic, but it's progressive. He was in the Canterbury scene — in the world of Soft Machine, King Crimson, Genesis, the beginnings of progressive rock/art rock. He takes his time compositionally, and he's concerned with repetition and lushness and compositions that unfold slowly and that take you somewhere different than where you begin."
Country Station Sushi
"Country Station, RIP. They were always blaring something weird that wasn't dinner music. It was a very San Francisco place for me."
The Paul Green School of Rock Music
"I work [at the school] part-time. It's pretty inspiring to see a group of 10-year-old girls and boys playing 'Heart of the Sunrise' by Yes."
Feinberg lived here for a month when he first moved to San Francisco from Brooklyn. "Louder Studios is pretty much Tim Green's domain. He has a velvet painting of ZZ Top and he has a ZZ Top pillow and that's really special. He also has Wayne Kramer's pick on the console, and his cat often likes to weigh in on a take." How does Feinberg know what the cat thinks? "You can just tell."
"What's really inspiring about Aquarius is the list they send out every two weeks. It's an exhaustive, deeply labored list of really far-reaching music that is explained and reviewed at length, and to me there's something miraculous about what they do."