Hailing from the American midwest, Citizen is a band that has been on a notable uptick for just around a decade or so now; not only in terms of popularity, but also output and quality. The band has laid their foundation somewhere between the realms of post-grunge, pop-punk, emo, and rock, never putting out an album that sounds the same as another, but always remaining consistently great.
2013’s iconic Youth established Citizen as a huge player in the game of pop punk, while 2015’s Everybody Is Going To Heaven saw the band taking a quick departure from that sound, stepping into the territory of post-grunge with shoegaze-y elements. Only two years later, Citizen redefined themselves once again with the beautiful and magnificently well-written As You Please, which provided a more accessible, reverb-soaked, emo-tinged soundscape. Finally, in 2021, Citizen released their most recent and by far their best offering, with the punchy, artful, and garage-y Life In Your Glass World, which felt like the peak of the band’s career thus far.
I lay out this history of greatness from Citizen to paint a vivid picture of how deeply I have historically adored this band. They’ve always stood out tall amongst their peers of similar sub genres, and are one of the few bands that have actually gotten better which each and every release. Their albums are always wonderfully diverse and refreshingly unique, all whilst remaining catchy and instantly memorable.
And it’s for these reasons why Citizen’s brand new 2023 effort Calling The Dogs is such a crushing disappointment. The band’s career thus far has been one of near-perfection, consistently on an uphill trajectory, and that has all come to an abrupt halt with the release of this extremely underwhelming album.
Let’s get one thing straight, though—Calling The Dogs is not a terrible record. In fact, I have a hard time even calling it a bad record. However, when listening to this album with the band’s previous releases in mind, this LP simply fails to reach even half of the greatness of something like Life In Your Glass World, or As You Please. I’m not mad at you, Citizen; I’m just disappointed.
The album opens with the soft, choppy strums and thick bass grooves of Headtrip, and then… that’s about it. Once you’ve heard this song, you’ve essentially heard the entire record. This illustrates my biggest problem with Calling The Dogs; this album massively lacks the diversity and flow that we’ve become accustomed to with Citizen’s albums. The songs are hardly distinguishable from one another, outside of a few examples (which I will touch on later). As mentioned previously, the songwriting present is not awful, rather, at most times, it’s catchy, pleasant, and easy to listen to. However, there are hardly any moments across the entire run time of Calling The Dogs that stand out as memorable, and almost no individual songs that raise themselves above the bar when it comes to the music previously outputted by this band. The moment I finish any song on this album, it almost instantaneously vacates my brain, leaving me with little to no meat to actually bite into here.
Can’t Take It Slow and Hyper Trophy follow a nearly identical formula, with abrasively repetitive vocal runs, familiar guitar riffs, and basic, unexciting drumming. The music on this album feels as if Citizen took qualities on Life In Your Glass World and Mat Kerekes’ solo material and completely watered it all down, resulting in a slough of samey, bland indie / alt-rock-ish tracks that are difficult to sit through; not out of offensiveness or poor taste, but rather simple boredom.
Nothing really changes at all on the album until you reach its seventh track, Bad Company, which showcases a grungier, dancier sound, and also features a great vocal performance by singer Mat Kerekes. The following track, Dogs, also deviates from the albums usual formula, providing the listener with something slightly more aggressive, and easily the best instrumental on the whole album.
However, even these tracks, which I would call the true highlights of the album, fail to reach the high-highs of past Citizen projects. Bad Company lacks a great chorus to push it to the point of memorability, and Dogs, albeit a good song, still just feels like something a Palm Beach high school kid would listen to on their way to a schoolyard fist fight, sounding like a slightly-failed attempt to recreate the magic of Fight Beat off of their 2021 album. The latter song also features the worst lyric ever written in the band’s career, with the horrifically cringe album titular line “I’m calling the dogs and it’s gonna get rough”. I don’t think I need to explain in depth why that line is so bad.
Another frustrating aspect of Calling The Dogs is the subdued-ness of Mat Kerekes’ vocals, which never once reach the same level of auditory emotion as his performances on tracks such as Flowerchild or Death Dance Approximately. He has also started to include some very strange vocal dynamics that are present throughout just about every song on the album. At times, Kerekes sings in this strange, forced dialect where he sounds like he is singing through pursed lips, as evident on songs such as Headtrip and When I Let You Down. He does this often, and instead of adding a new layer to his range, these moments seem to only detract from the quality of the music. He also does this gimmick where he will shout the end of a line and leave a few seconds of space afterwards, before continuing into the next line (If You’re Lonely, Hyper Trophy). None of these stylistic changes add anything to the music at all, but instead stick out like a sore thumb, and just leave me wondering “why does he sound like that?”
The best aspect of Calling The Dogs is easily Mat Kerekes’ incredible lyrical power, which is just as strong and heartfelt as ever. Citizen’s lyrics have always been emotional and easily relatable, while also being poetic, artful, and painted with vivid color. That hasn’t changed with the release of this record, and I doubt it ever will (outside of that aformentioned horrid titular line from Dogs.)
As I have mentioned several times over now, Calling The Dogs is not a terrible album. In fact, I even found the writing process of this review to be extremely difficult, as I do feel I’m being fairly harsh on what it largely just an okay album. It’s the context of Citizen’s overall discography that makes this album so incredibly disappointing, not the album itself. In comparison to Life In Your Glass World, or even Youth, Calling The Dogs simply feels half-baked, underwritten, and not as large in scale when it comes to both ambition and quality. However, this is not a career ending album for Citizen. Far from it, in fact. Despite not loving this album, I still do have a lot of love for this band, and I know that they will continue to achieve greatness in the future. As mentioned near the top of this review, Citizen is a band that never makes the same album twice, and it’s for this reason that I still remain extremely optimistic about future projects from this band.
For fans of: fuck if I know
‘Calling The Dogs’ by Citizen is released on 6th October on Run For Cover Records.
Words by Hunter Hewgley