It's easy to get cozy with City Center as background noise. The duo's EP, Spring St., dabbles in ambient loops, echoes of dub, quiet minor key chords and soft-sung vocals.
In "Pooliside," the sharp laughter and clinking sounds—of what might be glasses and silverware—falls into an easy rhythm under the light blanket of guitar strumming. The alarming effect of heavy buzzing is only temporary, replaced by softer static. Watery rattling in the title track provides a backbone to breathy, indiscernible singing. "Sky Flowers" seems like the most conventional song since it's the only one that really has a melody. But it still feels like the rest of the album: far off, just on the other side of the horizon.
Mostly, the duo of Fred Thomas (K Records' Saturday Looks Good to Me) and Ryan Howard isn't much different from other folk electronica/noise groups. And even if there is something new tucked between the synth crescendos, blips and buzzing, it's hard to hear it. The vital pieces keep drifting away, submerging themselves, dissipating. As an artistic concept, that quiet elusiveness seems pretentious. As a sound, it eclipses any musical tension the album might otherwise hold.
City Center plays the Zootown Arts Community Center Thursday, April 8, at 8 PM with Tyson Ballew and Colin Johnson. $5.