Year after year the New York City we know, in constant flux, changes with some parts disappearing altogether. Take the Brooklyn venue where the three-piece EZTV played their first show two years ago – gone. The East Village record store that stocked the band’s first tape on consignment – shuttered. As the band watch their compatriots move out of the city to cheaper, more idyllic pastures, it’s as if New York itself is telling them: “Drop dead.” When lead singer, songwriter and guitarist Ezra Tenenbaum sings, “Facedown on the concrete, While I dream of wider streets” on “States of Confusion,” you can hear weariness in his voice, and a touch of wistful “what-if” longing for more room, a little less hassle, a few more trees… maybe even a garage to park the 8-track machine.
But the shining “High Flying Faith” — the first song written for the album — is a refutation of urban weariness, it’s title perhaps acting as a makeshift motto for the optimism (and stubbornness) that is key to New York bands like EZTV. Inspired by the lyrics of “Broken Heart” by Skip Spence, it’s a 12-string-propelled nugget that best shows how EZTV operate: toeing the line between past and present, with a keen ear for left-of-the-dial experimentation that never lets the songs hew too far into pastiche and genre nostalgia.
Many of the band’s foundational inspirations — the Feelies’ upstart jangle, the upside-down pop architecture of Arthur Russell’s power pop band The Necessaries, Shoes’ aching harmonies — are back in play on High in Place, their sophomore album, though new instruments and feels abound throughout. Produced and engineered by the band themselves, a baby grand piano rings and 12-string acoustic guitars shimmer throughout the album, recalling the clear-eyed production techniques of Jeff Lynne.
One great advantage to living in New York: eventually all your friends come to visit. Taking advantage of tour stopovers, trips to attend weddings, or even just commandeering someone’s vacation for a few days, EZTV invited some like-minds and fellow songwriters into the studio — Jenny Lewis, Chris Cohen, Martin Courtney and Matt Kallman of Real Estate, John Andrews of Quilt, Nic Hessler and Mega Bog — to guest on High in Place. Aptly recorded on a tape machine purchased from a Lower East Side Studio that was going out of business, in a space where the New York City skyline both loomed and inspired through its glass windows, High in Place is an album of ten golden pop songs worthy of any era.