Monday, December 7, 2009

Grand Lake: Louise

It's no secret that we here at HAD are huge fans of Grand Lake, so it goes without question that we were pretty excited when we got word that the band had a new four track EP in the works. Little did we realize that the EP wouldn't just meet our (already high) expectations, but by far surpass them. The band is clearly in a sweet spot creatively, and has been growing artistically with each release. The Louise EP is no exception. The record is the band's tightest, most creative, and an unquestionably realization of the potential that's been resting beneath the surface.

The first, and most notable, change on the EP is the rhythmic intricacies. The band has employed far more electronic blips and bubbles than ever before, and done so with perfection. However, even more than that, the drumming has become notably more locked in with the bass, and the guitar has taken on a role not only as lead instrument, but also a textural tool for the other instruments to play off of. It's extremely interesting to hear as each instrument in the trio will at times take the lead spot, while the others find a niche to fill in the support role. The arrangement creates a feeling less of rock typicality, and instead creates a vibe (usually restricted to jazz) of every player being completely crucial the collective.

In addition to the instrumental growth, there can be no question that lead singer Caleb Nichols' vocals are in newly minted top form on the record. Nichols' has always had a killer set of pipes, but on Louise they're taken to the next level. He manages a careening sound that manages to be screamy, pitch-perfect, and delightfully melodic, all at the same time. The vocals have also become more impassioned, and brought up higher in the mix, giving the band more of a persona than could be felt on previous records. It's a clear (and welcome) link to the singer's impassioned live performances.

As for the material on the EP, it's incredibly choice as well: the first side of the EP is two originals by the band, while the second side contains two covers. The originals, "Louise" and "Black Cloud", are in our humble opinion some of the best the band has delivered to date. "Louise" is a choppy, texturized rant that juxtaposes Nichols' soaring vocals with Jameson Swagnon's crunched out guitar, all over a lilting beat. By contrast, "Black Cloud" is built upon a pulsing riff that recalls Wilco's "Spiders" and shows the band delving into some of their most experimental work to date.

The covers play equally as well as the original material, probably because the band owns them completely. The first (for which there's a video below) is Silver Jews' "Slow Education". The Jews always seems like a tough band to cover, largely due to their distinctive vocals, but Nichols manages to completely own it. Much like Elvis Costello's earnest translation of Nick Lowe's wry "What's So Funny About Peace, Love, And Understanding", Nichols tilts Berman's droll delivery completely on its head, with a straight ahead vocal that absolutely slays. You must hear it to believe it.

The final track on the record is one of Nichols' former band Port O'Brien, with the tune "Pigeonhold". The band does a fuzzed out take on the original, and unsurprisingly, it works. The tune's plodding beat and crunchy textures serve to nicely round out the rest of the EP's more intricate moments. "Pigeonhold" is one of our favorite Port O'Brien tunes, and given that they've apparently decided to leave it alone for the time being, we're glad to see Grand Lake pick up the torch.

In something of a record industry norm reversal, Grand Lake made the interesting decision of delivering their first full length, and then following with two EP's. What's more, the band has reduced in size since it was formed, and become more experimental in sound to boot. The result has been a sound that has grown, changed, and yielded surprising results with each new release. If you haven't heard Grand Lake yet, we recommend you get on board, because this is some of the most exciting new material out there. As for us, we can't wait to see where this goes next.

Grand Lake will be playing the "Christmas Miracle" at The Uptown in Oakland on December 18th

mp3: Grand Lake - Black Cloud