“It’s different yes it’s different… It’s not the same old shit you know,” Amistoso shares on “You Know The Answer, Just Follow The Leader”. Everything about it reeks of maturity, heading towards a more realized, studio-disciplined direction that might just alienate old fans who adore their raw and carefree aesthetics. With the help of Jazz Nicholas, himself a self-confessed maximalist who made a Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band out of The Itchyworms’ Noontime Show, Mikey and the rest of the gang shows that they’ve finally come of age, offering love homilies and wisdom nuggets through the most basic pop syntax. Follow The Leader, Ciudad’s fifth studio album clings to a musical ambition that soars in twinkly bursts, incorporating layers upon layers, keyboard melodies, muffled heartbeat drums, string arrangements, guitar strums, sha-la-la vocal harmonies and subtle orchestral flourishes—with each element, a driving force to the theatrical conceit that they strive to perfect in melodic sweep. Obviously it’s not my favorite Ciudad record, but its all-encompassing embrace for greatness ups the ante of OPM in terms of production style and musicality.
From the majestic pop songcraft of “Due Dates” to the late ‘60s keyboards-and-soul leanings (reminiscent of Girls' "Love Like A River" or The Beatles' "Oh Darling") of “How You Do It,” it’s clear that they’re gunning for something epic and game-changing, borrowing heavily from rock classics such as The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds and The Who’s Tommy. Thankfully, not much has changed for the worse. “You Know The Answer, Just Follow The Leader” is inescapably swoony, redolent of a time when music used to be about beautiful melodies and delicate arrangements. Its outro is nothing short of breathtaking, lulling you to visualize a dreamland filled with glittery clouds and sugarcoated seas. “There’s A Lonely Road To Sunday Night” offers glint of optimism even in the most dastardly of situations, with Mikey Amistoso’s whispery coos telling you that everything’s gonna be safe and sound. “Leads” and “Johnny” both have the pillowy vibe and intimacy that makes for a fascinating ballad, written in a way that doesn’t overindulge in sap. “When You Go To The Top” is an estimation of the gut-level production style carved in the album’s overall sound: big-sounding pop stuff laced with fun-loving experiments that unearth grounds they’ve never tapped before.
There’s vaudevillian quality in Follow The Leader’s approach of conveying timelessness and ambition, echoing familiar song forms of yesteryear’s golden age pop with unusual turns and quirks. Although the frisky kiddos in the first three albums have grown into a less hip, 30-something dads that have yet to solve the puzzles of the world, you can’t help but marvel to what Ciudad has become. And it’s something that’s worth remembering from here and beyond, as you go on and track down a discography that endures the test of time. B+