Recently, I listened to Midnight Cities’ debut album, Shake My Heart, while heading home from a sun-soaked day at the beach. It had been a perfect summer outing; even traffic was clear as I drove along the Wilshire corridor, top down, kissed by a cool breeze, pinkish rays of sunlight dancing off high-rise buildings as the band’s nostalgic vocals and soul-searching riffs filled me with a sweet, timeless yearning.
In a sprawling city where driving is a way of life, but not always a life-affirming experience, I couldn’t imagine a better opportunity to absorb the transformative tunes on Shake My Heart than that satisfying cruise down the grandest boulevard in Los Angeles.
“That’s good to hear,” said Simon Cardoza, band leader, when I told him about my ride. “Other people tell me they enjoy listening to our music while they’re on the road, too. Better, I guess, than listening to it in the fetal position alone in your bedroom.”
Simon laughed, revealing the vibrant and penetrating voice that used to make crowds perk their ears and take notice when he bellowed songs at bars.
Prior to the pandemic, that’s how I knew the band, from its live performances. Midnight Cities formed in 2012 with Simon on vocals and keys, Nick Roumeliotis on drums, and a changing lineup of musicians as the group struggled to get off the ground playing rock venues around town. Since then, they have settled with Jessica Freeman on guitar and Shaun Paramore on bass.
Shake My Heart was recorded by Manny Nieto and mixed and mastered by Sean Tallman. The album’s eleven songs follow two E.P.’s released in 2015 and 2016, which had a harsher twang than the band’s new music.
“Why the change in style?”
“We evolved,” said Simon, who went on to describe the genre played on Shake My Heart as an updated form of ‘yacht rock,’ a ‘70s sound epitomized by bands like Hall & Oates and Steely Dan, which emphasized a feel-good vibe.
“Anyone who inspired me growing up made me feel like no matter how bad things get, everything will turn out all right,” said Simon. “That’s what I want our music to be, something to help others reflect on their thoughts and emotions as they get through their day. If we can do that, I’d say we’re successful.”
While Simon’s upbeat characterizations of Shake My Heart ring true, at least for tracks like “Home” and “More Than What We See,” there is also a pensive quality to the album reminiscent of more recent acts like Interpol and The Shins.
At times, the tug of war between light and dark emotions in Shake My Heart pulled me wildly, as if I were being swept up by an ocean current. The retro gem “Move,” for example, made me feel like guzzling a pot of coffee and scaling Yosemite’s El Capitan summit, while the mysteriously remorseful “My Mind’s Taken” made me feel like wandering a cemetery and contemplating the cold, hard facts of reality.
Dramatic themes of triumph and regret, diverse and well-executed, make for excellent music, and the range of moods explored in Shake My Heart was no coincidence, according to other band members.
Before joining Midnight Cities, Shaun slapped bass in L.A.’s hardcore music scene. He once signed with a record label only to have his group fall apart at the last minute due to battered egos and interpersonal strife. Hence, one obstacle he learned early as a musician that bands need to overcome, is the ability to work together and compromise.
“We each have our individual ideas about where the music should go and how we would like it to be perceived,” said Shaun. “Sometimes it’s a challenge finding the correct tone, but we seem to manage.”
Leading up to the release of Shake My Heart, Midnight Cities produced videos for “Home,” “My Mind’s Taken,” and “White Dress,” and they also plan to release three more videos from the new album over the next several months.
“A year or two from now, when this pandemic is over and we’re playing live shows again, I want people to hear us, look us up, and find a trove of music to enjoy,” said Simon. “Hopefully this album helps us find a larger audience we know is out there, and we want to connect to.”
That assessment seemed accurate to Nick, who joined Midnight Cities nearly a decade ago after Simon asked him to fill in as drummer for a show one night. The two have been playing together since.
“Shake My Heart is the result of a lot of blood, sweat, and tears,” said Nick. “Moments of great hope, and great disappointment. In a lot of ways, it’s the most human music I’ve helped to create. Flawed, doomed, but complex and beautiful.”
Yacht rock? Maybe, but with a serious edge, which is why I seem to have fallen overboard for Shake My Heart.
Ryan Hyatt, October 10, 2020
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