Saturday, August 14, 2021

CD Odyssey Disc 1496: The Growlers

Apologies for the delay in posting, gentle readers. I had a very busy week and have only finally found the time this morning.

Disc 1496 is…. Natural Affair

Artist: The Growlers

Year of Release: 2019

What’s up with the Cover? It’s a house party! This house party looks pretty awesome and I imagine I was invited by some friend but don’t know anyone there. The extrovert in me wants to talk to everyone in this photo.

Admittedly this party has at least two too many kids at it. I’d probably brave talking first to the woman on the couch (yeah, she’s got one of the kids, but he appears to be sleeping). Or wait…is that a toddler breastfeeding? And is everyone staring? It appears I’ve walked into this party of strangers at an awkward moment.

I like to think my arrival breaks any tension as people welcome the distraction of a gregarious stranger. I proceed to talk to everyone at the party – even the woman on the couch who looks like she’s got a story or two to tell. OK, maybe not that guy with the kid sitting on the chair, but definitely his partner in green. They’ll have to leave early, because of the kid. Around that time I might be getting tired, and his departure will free up that chair near the kitchen (where I will have spent the majority of the evening). I’ll take a load off and then maybe see who is still out on the deck before calling a cab home.

All in all, it was a magical imaginary evening.

How I Came To Know It: I have been a Growlers fan since I first discovered them looking for a fun live event in San Francisco (see previous entries to see how that turned out).

How It Stacks Up: I now have three Growlers albums. Of those three, “Natural Affair” does come in third. At the Olympics, that’s a bronze!

Ratings: 3 stars but almost 4

The Growlers’ music is the soundtrack to every cool party that went well into the wee morning hours, but where nothing bad happened. Sure there will be heartfelt testimonials and soul-baring confessions near the end, but no tears and a whole lot of love.

“Natural Affair” is the band’s latest record, and it once again captures that compelling mix of musical influences that they have dubbed “beach goth”. The band has even doubled down on that moniker, forming a label with the same title.

Beach Goth is hard to define, but it mixes eighties emo music, yacht rock, sixties surfer guitar and disco. “Natural Affair” doubles down on the amount of disco. You could argue that the drums are mostly seventies soul, but the line between that and disco is thin, and definitely gets crossed here.

The Growlers don’t make dance music so much as they make tunes with a groove. You’ll want to sway and even throw a lazily bent arm in the air from time to time, but you can dance along safely without risk of spilling your drink. Songs like “Social Man” and “Foghorn Town” are prime examples, with an easy flow that will make your backbone slide. I didn’t really pay close attention to the lyrics, but I know these tunes left me feeling something between chill and funky.

Lead singer Brooks Nielson is a big part of this magic. He somehow manages to sing in a style that sounds like his head voice is coming out of the back of his throat. It makes his tone both rich and ethereal, which aren’t two things that usually go together. “Shadow Woman” exemplify his ability to sound like he’s wandering through a song, with a sneaky sense of timing that always draws you back to the groove going on underneath.

I found it hard to focus on the lyrics of this record, but I think it was just because the structure of the songs was more interesting. They are mood pieces more than anything, and the Growlers know how to make hopeful music but with a lot of minor chords. There is comfort in these tunes, but it is the complicated comfort of late nights and contemplation.

It doesn’t always work, and usually it is when they reach for unlikely metaphors where they lose me. “Pulp of Youth” and “Coinstar” are musically solid, but their titular expressions were used in a way that felt added on, rather than organic. Also, I kept mishearing “coinstar” as “coin slot” which was, you know, quite a different metaphor indeed.

That said, when circumstances trap you with one album for an entire week, you quickly find out if that album has staying power. “Natural Affair” had plenty of chances to bore me, but it never happened. If anything I appreciated the record a little bit more on every listen. I would start people interested in the Growlers with the superior “Chinese Fountain” (reviewed back at Disc 1091) but if you did hear “Natural Affair” first I’m confident you’d still have a good time.

Best tracks: Natural Affair, Social Man, Foghorn Town, Shadow Woman, Truly, Stupid Things

No comments: