January 11, 2019
As the world gets a feel for the new year, a sense of clarity starts to pervade the minds of many. For the once Charlotte-based dreamwave group, Rnie, that clarity seems stronger than ever with their latest release, Citrus, a ten-song album that unboxes the tangled web of an ever-adversarial relationship with mental health, personal ties, and the frustrations of passion.
Under the dreary skies of January, Citrus stands as perfect listening material. It’s smooth, calming and ephemeral, lasting just under a half hour in total. However, within those short bursts into singer Lamont Brown’s psyche, a far longer story is unearthed. The very fact that Rnie is going strong in 2019 is an amazing feat in and of itself. Brown cracked open the album, revealing just how much time and focus went into the latest material but, as with all stories, it’s best to start at the beginning.
“Rnie started back in late Fall of 2014,” Brown said. “I wanted to start writing music on my own to fool around on guitar more after only playing bass. I ordered this cruddy one-channel interface off Amazon and found a super outdated Mac desktop on Craigslist for like $90. I got Phil from the band Pullover to come with me and we spent the day in Gastonia… After that I spent the next the week writing a song a night…They were terrible songs.”
Brown continued, “I had no intention of ever really playing shows live…it was more of a learning experience for writing and recording. But at the same time I didn’t want to settle on writing music I’d never be proud of, so one night I sat down and told myself I wasn’t going to bed until I did something I’d actually want to share.”
That moment of inspiration finally came with a GarageBand mishap when Brown incidentally slowed down a bass track along with the drum beat of the song, warping the bass sound and leading to the soundscape that Rnie would come to stake their claim on– a hazy, warped dreamworld that serves as the stage for Brown’s stories on Citrus. After Brown found his rhythm in that happy accident, he played and toured with Phil Pucci (Pullover) and Garrett Herzfeld (Petrov) under the moniker of Aggrocragg before changing the name of the group to Ernie.
Over the following years, Brown encountered new experiences as well as a fair deal of strife between a move to Philadelphia, a nasty car accident, the theft of his guitar equipment, and the devastating loss of all his previously recorded material when his old computer finally kicked the bucket. Through all of this, Brown persevered, and he linked up with friends and musicians Joshua Thomas and Sarah Anne, two people who would help launch Rnie into the next phase of its life. After this fateful intertwining, Rnie began work on Citrus.
“Over the course of 2017 we started to write…something. We weren’t sure what it was exactly, but songs would pop up here and there. After enough had been written, a tour was done in June 2017 with Josh on drums, Sarah Anne on bass, Jimmy Turner on guitar, and me on guitar and vocals,” Brown said. “The tour was the happiest I’d been in a while, and by that point Josh, Sarah, and I had decided we would be moving to Philly that fall. But during the tour we hit New York where we hung out for a few days and met up with an old friend, Adam Intrator from Triathalon. He showed us the city and the decision was made to move to Brooklyn instead… Writing continued and the E was dropped from Ernie. By that point we had enough songs to know we had written a record for the newly named band.”
Now in 2019, Citrus lines up all of what Brown has been through since the formation of the band and presents it with a strange ubiquity. Even with such an involved story to tell, Rnie allows the music to take center stage on the record, leaving the lyrics shrouded in fog as Brown croons eerily under the slow, churning tracks. At a glance, Citrus is a solid album suited for its genre, bearing similarity to the electronic-influenced hum of groups like Cigarettes After Sex, Slowdive, or Washed Out. It is blissful, sleek, and musically unique enough to keep a listener’s attention time and time again.
However, the real gem of this record is, of course, what Brown has hidden beneath the surface. The lyrics of Citrus tell not only the story of Brown’s personal hardship with the events of the past years, but his dealings with anxiety, depression, and struggling relationships. While these lyrics may be the focal point of Brown’s experience, they are certainly not stealing the spotlight on Citrus. To get to the core of what makes Rnie a special act in the day and age of inundation, passive listening is not an option.
One way or another, Citrus stands as a multi-dimensional record that has demonstrated a years-long growth process in not only Lamont Brown, but Rnie as a group of musicians who have overcome the odds to put this album into the world. Whether you’re in it for a record that can weather the bleak mid-winter, or a well woven story told firsthand, Citrus is a work that cannot be dismissed.