Kerry Pastine and the Crime Scene’s new single opens with near primal furor. The slight echo applied to the drumming kicking off the song doesn’t dilute its intensity in any way, but does give it a certain amount of panache that an unadorned recording would have lacked. The staccato design of the track continues for the bulk of the song; the guitar playing never makes flashy or extravagant runs but, instead, slashes with clipped physicality punctuated with restrained flourishes that complement the performance rather than sounding self-indulgent. It all happens in less than four minutes, but there are few listeners who will finish this tune feeling somehow cheated. I know I didn’t.
There are many reasons for this, but the biggest factor is Pastine’s voice. She inhabits the song from her first line to last with an distinct and indelible presence that few contemporaries or peers can hope to match. Her vocal tone and character will strike a familiar note for longtime music listeners, but it is interesting how she doesn’t recall any particular singer. I can hear strands of Joplin, Winehouse, and a number of other percolating through her voice, but she transforms her influences into something her own and never relies on mimicry to win over listener’s favor. There’s definitely a retro quality to the way she attacks the song, modern female pop singers never branch out this far for the most part, but she’s also spirited and defiant in a modern way that will connect with present-day musical trends.
Her phrasing is always on target, but you get the sense listening to this performance that there are no two performances of “City of Love” exactly alike. It’s a song that gives Pastine wide berth to exercise her creativity and it has an elastic nature that allows her the latitude to twist and emphasize the individual lines in any way she likes. The band plays to this strength well. They contrast her open-ended approach with a lean and economical musical attack that the production captures with crisp fidelity. The minimal effects applied to the instruments strengthen the performance rather than distracting listeners.
The lyrics are straight-forward and conversational. It would be a critical mistake loading this song up with excessive lines and the same focused approach they bring to the track’s musical character works as well with its words. The song’s video practically bursts with color throughout, but it is clearly intended as a piece designed to complement the musical performance rather than being able to function as a standalone work. Pastine and the Crime Scene, however, fill the clip with the same level of polish apparent in the music. “City of Love” introduces listeners to Pastine and the Crime Scene’s latest musical opus with the right balance of elements working in its favor and there’s never any sense at all of the band’s creative train running out of track. They sound as fresh and invigorated as they did when they first formed and the album promises to be their best yet.