The City of Los Angeles, literally translated The City of the Angels, is the metaphorical mecca of dreamers across the United States. Home to Hollywood, countless record companies, celebrities galore, Chads and Beckys, and some gorgeous beaches, it’s the end goal for would-be stars and starlets and the hub of all things “cool”. So why would anyone want to leave? That’s the question behind the newest single from The Bergamot.
Founded in 2009 by husband-and-wife duo Nathaniel Hoff and Jillian Speece, the Brooklyn-based band won the 2012 Bud Lite Battle of the Bands and gained international attention. Since then, they’ve toured with a plethora of big name acts like Wiz Khalifa, the All-American Rejects, and Young the Giant, as well as a handful of festivals like SXSW and Taste of Chicago. Their upcoming album, Mayflies, recorded by noted Adele and Florence and the Machine producer Matt Wiggins, is set for release on September 19th; “L.A.” is the newest single from that record.
So why leave L.A.? The Bergamot say that “So many great songs have been written about heading out West, not so many about leaving. Somewhere between the lavish lives of the successful tycoon and the struggling artist is the everyday story of someone packing up. Quietly moving on to the next phase of their life.” To the band, the question isn’t necessarily about leaving L.A. behind, but rather leaving behind dreams that didn’t come true. They call it “harsh reality: what comes after the dreams silently slip away?”
The track’s biggest strength is that it sets a mood right off the bat; it feels like waking up early and leaving before anyone realizes you’re missing. Packing up and moving away without telling anyone you’re going. A solitary hike in the early-morning twilight. A full, lush sound is achieved by layering electric guitar over acoustic guitars, a bass drum kick for every downbeat, and a gratuitous amount of reverb on the vocals. The reverb adds a lot of depth to the sound in addition to the fullness, and really gives everything space. The tambourine adds a slight but present driving force behind the tempo and moves a fairly repetitive song along. The acoustic guitar ostinato makes the heart ache with its urgency and reach for the high note at the end of its loop, only to fall again to where it began. It’s fitting for a song about leaving behind your biggest dreams in the city that was meant to make them come true, but instead left you unfulfilled.
“Unfulfilled” might be the way I’d describe the song. There are lots of beautiful elements, but the final result is lackluster and feels stereotypically indie. The second verse “she’ll be gone” is sung long and loud with some truly beautiful multi-vocal harmonies. I desperately wanted more but was denied. Though there were occasional glimpses during various “Goodbye L.A.”s that offer up an opportunity for a fuller arrangement, none of them ever quite achieve their full potential. The music is cyclical and reliable, which is certainly fine, but the lyrics are blasé and repetitive. If a song’s instrumentation is “indie standard” (i.e. just strings and percussion, no synth or winds, orchestral instruments, or horns) then there ought to be a more developed lyrical aspect than saying that Elle, the character in the song, has left L.A. eight different times with some musing that “She’s hoping for a life living out there on the road/ She was hoping for something new ‘cuz she was growing old” in between. These two lines give more of the story and more depth into the protagonist than the rest of the song put together; unfortunately, they’re all the listener seems to get.
“L.A.” is, sonically, a beautiful addition to The Bergamot’s discography. It achieves their moody, emotional sound, one that sets a tone, makes you feel that “I want to believe in you” line while realizing that sadly, you can’t. Lyrically, though, it’s a departure from their storytelling and poetry of albums past. They’re far too talented with far too much experience under their belt to settle for mediocrity. This track is not exemplary of their abilities as a group or the music they’re capable of achieving. Time will tell whether their September release delivers on the whole-hearted exuberance of their collective discography or leaves me feeling underwhelmed the same way as “L.A.” did. You can judge for yourself by checking out the music video or seeing them at one of their upcoming shows, listed on their website.