Last month, Rust Belt rock outliers Citizen dropped a serious contender for year-end best-of album lists in "As You Please." The record, their third full-length effort in four years on Run For Cover Records, is a smoldering collection of concrete riffs, grungy ambience and elegaic lyricism. It's also the best thing they've done thus far.
Just maybe don't survey their fans.
While talking with vocalist/guitarist Nick Hamm over the phone recently, the conversation turned toward the two camps their audience seems to fall into: Those that recognize "As You Please" as the band's next, most realized, step in their collective maturation as musicians -- and those that insist that their fiery 2013 debut "Youth" represents the pinnacle of the Michigan/Ohio-bred group.
"It is interesting because I feel like one of those camps is right, and one of those camps is wrong," Hamm said, laughing. "I think that if you're really only into something that we did four years ago, I just think that maybe like, us as a band are just not for you. And that's totally fine. [laughs] I mean, 'Youth' totally changed our lives. It allowed for us, pretty much overnight, to do this full time ... so I owe a lot to that record and I don't want people to ever think that 'Youth' is a dirty word for us but at the same time, I just think that not being able to recognize that what we're doing currently is better and more exciting -- well, I kinda feel bad for the people that don't think that. [laughs]
"Whatever, though. Do you."
The lads in Citizen (which, aside from Hamm, includes vocalist Mat Kerekes, drummer Jake Duhaime, guitarist Ryland Oehlers, and Nick's brother Eric on bass) have done a little growing up since their formation in 2009 (while still in high school, mind you) -- and recently found that their evolution as musicians doesn't necessarily mean that their entire audience is willing (or able) to go along with them.
"I don't know if it's like a narrative thing, where people are really connected to the narrative of the first album and maybe it's upsetting in some way that that narrative didn't continue into the next two albums," Hamm said.
"I just think we're trying to challenge ourselves [with every album] and I think we did it this time around in a way that was better than we did with the second [2015's 'Everybody Is Going to Heaven']. You know, we were really interested in being abrasive a few years ago, and that's cool and I don't regret that, but this time around, it was more challenging to ourselves as songwriters to write an album that was adventurous but not abrasive, you know? That's not super easy to do. So, I'm really proud of that -- but, you know, people aren't forced to take that step with us. If they're content with the 2013 stuff, they'll just have to stay there [laughs]."
And that's not to say the response to "As You Please" hasn't been overwhelmingly positive (it has) or that Hamm and his bandmates don't appreciate the folks that got them to this point, but it'd be disingenuous if they dribbled out one "Youth" copy after another.
"I just feel like we are still hungry and we're still taking in so many new things, so many albums and new influences. I just think that time has a huge impact on us," Hamm said.
For every Citizen fan that may be mired in the past, there seems to be a couple others who embrace the progression. Hamm said it's been obvious when they step onstage these days that the new music is taking on a life of its own -- and he's grateful for it.
"The first show we played, that I would say was really the start of the record cycle, was a show in the UK and we opened with 'Jet' -- and, like, everybody was singing it," he said. "I could've cried ... On some [of the new material], there are moments where they feel like old Citizen songs, you know? Like, people just know them so well. And that's really cool. It feels rejuvenating."