The Exit Strategy - City of Microphones (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

The Exit Strategy

City of Microphones (2008)

One Percent Press

As yet another post-punk band to add to the pile, the Exit Strategy go at it with enough gusto to propel you through a whole album despite lack of much variation or unique spins on the time-weathered sound. Veterans of the Buffalo, NY scene (the only past group I've heard of is the Kite-Eating Tree), this current group have been at it since `04 and have a couple releases down already, so I would think they would be itchin' by now to break out of their forefathers' (granddaddies Gang of Four and Wire; Poppa Fugazi and Momma Drive Like Jehu) shadows by this point.

The album excites in the first few tracks, and some thanks should go to J. Robbins, who provides his usual top-notch production, obviously capturing the band's vision with a hard-hitting, no-frills approach. But most thanks must rest on the shoulders of these strong musicians. A taught interlocked rhythm section rarely lets up on the highly-caffeinated tempos, but in particular I'm talking about guitarist Steven Kabza, who executes jagged chord rhythms and intricate lines, filling the treble end of things despite being the only six-string here. When he gets more mathy the band takes on a No Knife slant, as in "All Circuits Are Dead."

But as the album wears on it becomes apparent that these guys excel at one thing only. Opener "X-Rays" seems like a Hot Snake-style standout, but is it only because they still have my full attention at that point? Could it have just as well have been "Big Gunpowder"? Musically, the guys do attempt some different angles, but then I find myself hypocritically wishing they stayed with the formula. "Judas Kiss" strays too far from melody in both riffs and vocals and "System of One Youth" slows things down and gets a bit metal, but doesn't stand up to the other tracks. "General Manager" is more successful as a down-tempo number. The lyrics are what you would expect from a band of their moniker but the twist here is that vocalist Mark Constantino is THE MAN. That's right, he's a Buffalo police officer. You'd think that might spice things up, but I am never sure what these vaguely-worded lyrics are really saying, anyway. And at times Constantino's voice seems a tad weak to hold up this genre, like his nasal outbursts of "The war is over now / We're all better / Who is looking out for you?" in "Motorcade."

I will give it to the guys that they finish strong and perk me up again with "Fake Trigger," which has dynamic contrast lacking in much of the album prior. It ends things with the band at their heaviest, yet Constantino sounding more melodic with his bits of "I'm on standby" peeking out of the ruckus. Sweaty musicianship and solid production give City of Microphones a right to all the big comparisons, but the band must break free of them at some point to keep our attention.