Let's get stupidly, nerdily reductivist. Here's why you will love Citay: Citay = Led Zeppelin's "Battle of Evermore" + Black Sabbath's "Planet Caravan" + Pink Floyd's "Fearless." Yes, using mathematical formulas to describe music is hackneyed as fuck. Yes, boiling down a band as dynamic as Citay to three base influences is demeaning. The thing is, the phrase "prog-folk-metal" will put off just about anyone, and Citay—a prog-folk-metal nine piece from San Francisco—deserve as broad an audience as possible. Just about anyone can understand an elementary equation. And in this case, the equation is dead-on.
That means the quiet acoustic side of Led Zeppelin, one of rock's loudest bands. That means the only respite Sabbath ever allowed, their menace held at bay for one transcendent, lysergic moment. That means Pink Floyd at their most pastoral—the post-hippie, post-comedown paranoia of their rock-opera stuff left outside in the rain. Citay's heady jams warm gently around the hearth instead, bright flames flicking long shadows against the wall, darkness rendered friendly and reassuring. The outside world is scary and closing in, but it's left outside. You know the music of Citay when you hear it, but it's still surprising. It's new classic.
"I don't think of it as that intentional, you know?" says Ezra Feinberg, Citay's lead guitarist and songwriter. "I mean, I certainly do share a love of a lot of classic stuff from that classic era. That's just the sort of thing that comes out of me when I start working on songs, just making little scratch recordings and demos on my own."
Feinberg began Citay in 2004 as a bedroom project, a recent transplant from New York City to San Francisco. His previous bands mined the heavy side of heavy, but once he got out West, the new setting lent itself to a new sound.
"I love a lot of heavy music for its heavy glory," he says. "But when people who are loud start experimenting with being soft—when people start changing the textures that they're used to—a lot of interesting stuff can grow and develop." Tim Green, ex–Nation of Ulysses, currently of the Fucking Champs, got hold of Feinberg's early tapes and has been playing in the band and producing Citay's music ever since.
Citay is sprawling, vivid, and transporting, exemplified by their second album, Little Kingdom, released in late 2007. It's a towering achievement of baroque rock. A gentle battle rages throughout: Acoustic guitar keeps one bare foot on the forest floor, electric guitar lifts a moon boot toward the cosmos. In the middle ground, sparse group vocals echo low and distant, bass and synth hum in the low end, and an occasional flute floats haunted melodies. Feinberg's electric guitar tone, especially, gives songs like "First Fantasy" and the title track their soaring bliss. His knack for dramatic composition builds narrative, stacking movements and codas, often leading songs into the six- and seven-minute mark. Little Kingdom is a psychedelic playground. Or not.
"I hate to say it, but 'psychedelic' is a word that I've never identified with, never been excited by," Feinberg says. "The thought 'all music is psychedelic' has crossed my mind several times, especially since the word has gotten so overused in the last few years. When I think of psychedelic rock, I always think of a lot of improvisation, which is cool, but we don't do much improvising in Citay. It's a band driven by the possibilities of composition."
But any composition is psychedelic if you're high.
"It's true, it's true," Feinberg concedes. "I've been told—and I'm happy to hear it—that Citay is really great music to get high to, even by people in the band. But that's not something I'm into."
Surprising, then, that Citay runs in the same nu-hippie/post-jam psychedelic underground as other Bay Area bands Howlin' Rain, Black Fiction, 3 Leafs, and Tussle; Citay even shares members with the last two. These are the bands—like Seattle's Whalebones—that play the infamous Folk Yeah! solstice festivals in the heart of Big Sur ("My favorite place in the world," Feinberg says). These are the bands that, like the term or not, are making the new psych-rock, oughties style.
Be proud, Ezra! Like it or not, making great music to get high to is a hallowed rock 'n' roll tradition (see Zep, Floyd, Sabbath). Citay earns a place of honor in a grand lineage.
Now let's do some bong rips and listen to Little Kingdom.