Acoustic Post-Rock Trio City of the Sun Builds Stories Without Words

Photo byJosh Cheuse. Courtesy of the artist

Acoustic post-rock genre chameleons City of the Sun went from busking in the grimy tunnels of New York City’s subway to selling out shows in Europe. The trio, made up of guitarists John Pita and Avi Snow with percussionist Zach Para, just wrapped a string of shows in Greece, where they’ve built a large fan base piggybacking off a video of them performing in Union Square going viral. It’s this experience that has formed the trio’s approach to taking sold-out stages across the world. Pita speaks to that sentiment, saying their experience as buskers “taught [them] to be spontaneous, and got rid of any possible stage fright or shyness. It also helped us pull music out and just play it; it made us not struggle to write.”

On the heels of their European tour, the psychedelic triad dropped Chapter I, a sweltering three-song EP and the first of a series meant to tease their 2020’s full-length debut. Made up of “Someday,” “La Luz,” and “No Walls In The West,” Chapter I feels like a long journey through a desert, with listeners trudging through the sand guided by the siren song of Pita and Snow’s intermeshed guitar. Latest single “Barcelona,” the first off of Chapter II, chugs along at a similar pace, engrossing the listener in an uplifting flurry of strummed guitar.

Chapter I feels extremely compact, a testament to how well the triad can build a story without saying a word. “No Walls In The West” is particularly doleful, with hushed strings invoking old flamenco and building up to an exultant ending. Pita differentiates the track’s “mystical desert vibe” to their past slow songs, which he sees as more “cinematic.” “This one has a timeless vibe, he muses. “We were actually playing something very similar five or four years ago when we recorded “What Took You So Long” (from 2016’s Jefferson St. Sessions) and I was playing that arpeggio tenor with a similar melody and we kept jamming on that through the years. During one practice, Avi started playing this and I played the melody… Zach came into it and played a drum beat and that’s when I think it became a real song. It’s kind of classical-sounding.”

If “No Walls In The West” represents a more somber end of the emotional spectrum, midway track “La Luz” is emblematic of sepia-toned joy, the constant knowledge that the sun will rise again. Bolstered by a chugging guitar-plucked melody, spacey handclaps and distorted tambourines strung through euphoric high notes, “La Luz,” which means the light in Spanish, is intentionally evocative of the dawn in both title and execution. “The song has a Spanish guitar vibe… I’m from Ecuador and thought a Spanish title, “La Luz,” would be more poetic,” says Pita. “The song reminded me of the dawn, the way the light comes through your window in the morning. This is the first time the group has put out a song with a non-English title, a poignant acknowledgement of the music in different languages and in a song title itself, especially important for a band likeCity of the Sun that’s solely instrumental.

“I think each of us has our own little moods which inform music and how we play,” says Para. “I feel a multitude of emotions sometimes at once in some of our songs.” “It’s heartfelt music,” Pita interjects. “I think because it’s instrumental, we focus on an intense vibe because there’s only instruments to tell the story, whether it’s very happy, very sad, very hopeful, even super rocky and badass our music has a lot of intention.”

Their covers have also garnered a lot of attention, with their recording of Peter Bjorn and John’s “Young Folks” accruing over nine million streams on Spotify and their cover of The xx’s “Intro” being a popular staple of their live sets. The guys have since expanded their repertoire, learning covers of Kid Cudi’s “Day N’ Night” and “Voice of Summer” by Don Henley. Although the band is interested in eventually collaborating with a “mysterious, unique-sounding male vocalist”, they’re in no rush at all to try and imbue their music with vocals. Listening to the way City of the Sun are able to put their touch on other artists regardless of genre, bending the original arrangements to their will and crafting the breathtaking acoustic soundscapes that have come to define their sound, is an interesting exercise in comparisons and proof positive that the guys need not be in any rush to shift their sound.

“I’d say [our music] is very different in the way that it’s not instrumental background music,” says Pita. “It’s a performance with intention, a lyrical narrative even without vocals or writing or words. The lyrical performance tells a story and stands on its own, which isn’t necessarily popular unless its electronic. I think that’s what we bring to the table.”

Watch the video for “Barcelona” from City of the Sun’s ‘Chapter II’ EP below.