Falling out of love and into life

The Workday Release hit a resonant note on “City Lights.”



Corrin Zug, Writer

After four years, The Workday Release has finally cut through the quiet with the shiny, widely anticipated, studio-cut album, “City Lights,” and contrary to the urban ambiguity of its title, the clarity of this record’s focus easily lends itself to being singer-songwriter David Ottestad’s most heartfelt accomplishment yet, though not in the way you might expect.


For most, The Workday Release is synonymous with easy-listening romance and tender serenades. Puppy love is something Ottestad initially made a name for himself with, including fluffy favorites such as “Love in a Box,” and “Simple Distance” and even a sincere cover of the crooner classic, “The Way You Look Tonight,” to name a few. All memorable and well received, but keeping in with the candied genre-generality of young love. The full-bodied “City Lights” record, with its driving anthems and introspective agility, highlights a courtship of a different kind — with meaning rather than maidens. For the first time, we are invited to look at the man behind the music, rather than his romantic interests. The Workday Release, it seems, has fallen out of love and into life, but the result is savory music to our ears.


The album’s sound is nothing short of incredible. The full, polished instrumentation is, at times, cinematic in nature and makes for a dazzling listening experience all on its own. No featured artists or cutesy collabs here. “City Lights” is all about the business of bereaved fortitude, but shines all the brighter for it. Instead of the casual ditties of his previous album, Ottestad flaunts fierce intentionality with each new song. Everything, from the opening notes of “Damages,” to the promising finality of “The Other Side,” displays a musical mastery Workday fans will never know they were missing. Armed with the guidance of acclaimed producer Warren Huart, this record is a loaded arsenal of go music, explosive and unrelenting in its crystal quality.

Vocally, Ottestad exerts greater control and conviction than ever before. In “Damages,” his commanding delivery honestly betrays the pain and passion he has cultivated in recent years — “Struggling to stand against the wind / Circling the deep abyss.” The gymnastic movements of the album’s title track, “City Lights,” build a factory of resolve, swimming with characteristic optimism, tactile imagery, and toe-tapping “night sky magic.” Like lightning follows thunder, the opening punch of “Trouble” graduates to electric rifts infused with a vaguely punk tenacity — “Sick of living with two hands tied / I’m overdue for trouble after midnight” — and grown adult growing pains not unknown to steadily aging Millennials. And not to leave faithful fans disappointed, the familiar face of “Where the Wind Blows” — the only unabashed “love song” on the record — enchants classic, acoustic Workday romance with Fantasyland orchestration, with strings and bells to boot.


Harkening back to the weariness of “Damages,” the final two tracks embody sobering perseverance. “Free Fall” features Conor Oberst-esque lyrics and Matt Nathanson musicality to connote the chaotic frustration of impending maturity caught at a crossroads, somewhere between young and old, stop and go, past and future — “The wide-eyed kid that I was is gone for good.” And most stripped-down and emotional of all, “The Other Side,” proves Ottestad does not need to hide behind the busyness of his new sound. The battle-weary commitment to press on teems with emphatic piano progressions which perfectly accommodate his pure, enduring vocals — it is deliciously Jon Foreman and audaciously Adele.

Through and through, these songs are David. They are not daydreams or pretty girls, although they are pretty. If “Simple Distance” was a high-five, fleeting and fun, “City Lights” is a handshake, promising and personal. It lingers, navigates, quests and questions. With such an impressive array of new themes and sounds to explore, it has never been clearer that there is still plenty more to The Workday Release than meets the ear.


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