The universe that Gavin Mays has created as Cities Aviv is blurry by design. Between the rhythmically frayed beats and unevenly chopped samples, the cryptic bars and the persistent, often deafening crackle of vinyl, the “songs” lurking underneath it all can feel illusory; concentrate on a single element for too long and the rest of it will sneak around you, unnoticed. Raised For A Better View is no different. Its tracks are short but dense, exploiting their musical instability for maximum gain before he rips you away into another immaculately designed dimension. And yet, by keeping us always slightly out of focus, by requiring and rewarding a persistent ear, Mays extends the shelf-life on the enigmatic persona of Cities Aviv even as he peels back the curtain for a tantalizing hint at the man behind the boards.
Much has been made of the production on Cities Aviv albums, and for good reason: the dark, metallic textures that grate over one another, glued together somehow by the ghostly reverberation of his voice create the uniquely spacious claustrophobia that one would expect to find on a post-punk record. Joy Divison and Psychic TV are references he’s openly name-checked on previous albums, and although they aren’t deployed literally here, the sinister punk vibes that drew so many cross-genre accolades are still felt strongly. Standout track “Marionette” even brings in a bit of a gritty yet slightly whining delivery, reminiscent of a groggy Iceage, to complete the picture. And the drum samples on “For Now & Ltd.,” salvos of snare cracking against the glassy, distant synths, sound like a breakdown heard through a broken radio. The way Gavin Mays plays with space, creating rooms within rooms and threading them together to construct these impossible sonic architectures, only adds to the mystery at his core.
For all of the instrumental riddles, Raised For A Better View also features some incisive lyrical insight, mostly presenting Mays as elevated above the chaotic forces swarming around him. “White people try to hit me with some baggage / Trendy niggas try to check me for the image,” he taunts on “For Now & Ltd.” Emotional stragglers try to sap at him on “Don’t Feed Off The Energy,” but he wards them away with the title chant and a crooked guitar sample. He quite literally phones in help at several points on the album, throwing in encouraging voicemails on “Weight” (“Fuck the dumb shit, nigga / It’s all about striving”) and the gorgeous jazzy closer “*Series of Exits” (“Give me a call send me a text / Let me know if you’re okay”). Despite the isolated, confusing soundworld that he’s able to create, Mays is well aware that he’s besieged by energies that are keen to throw him off the grind, and these moments of confident vulnerability paint a spare, but intriguing narrative.
This constant back and forth between the concrete objects of Gavin Mays’ life and the fleeting, fantastic instrumentation that he strings them together with is the tension that keeps Raised For A Better View afloat. At times, the rush of nimble beats can overwhelm your ability to keep track of the clues, but contrary to what he might have you believe, feeding off his energy is the only way to keep this story straight.