Monday, July 11, 2011
Release Date: July 12, 2011
Rating: ******** (8/10)
To cut to the chase, Grooms' sophomore full-length is startlingly great. The album oozes the professionalism and confidence of a band that - finally - knows exactly what they're trying to do. It is refreshingly original and strikingly mature.
Grooms still often evoke Sonic Youth in their odd dissonance, the guitar (and vocals) often transcending key signatures to create mysteriously, deliciously warped harmonies and scales. Still, compared to their first album, Prom owes relatively little to Sonic Youth or anyone else for that matter. It's not hard to name reference points (Sonic Youth, Radiohead, Microphones, My Bloody Valentine, the Notwist), but Prom could only have been made by Grooms.
The album announces its identity immediately - "Tiger Trees" opens with a foreboding military march, traced out not by the thud of drums but rather by shards of static, then explodes into a wash of noise. It's that rare sort of noise that doesn't depend on volume as its primary ingredient, the kind you can find in albums by Eric's Trip and the Microphones and very few others. It's a sort of quiet roar that evokes mountains and oceans. It doesn't sound murky but it's nearly impossible to figure out exactly what is going on.
That sort of masterful engineering is coupled with noticeably electrodance leaning elements such as the relentlessly elliptical acid house bass on the title track, the sputtering drums of "Imagining the Bodies" and the industrial beat in parts of "Into the Arms." These elements recall Radiohead, with their deep, post-dub, asymmetrical b-lines, but they are always balanced with organic elements. Likewise, when the guitar drifts off into space on the slow "Expression Of," the bass is at its most earthy.
The album is impressively consistent - none of the tracks feel like filler, either in that they are underdeveloped or in that they don't fit with the record overall. The explosive, melting-out-of-key "Aisha" balances the gentle, sad ambient-folk of "Psychics." In "Sharing," Grooms take a cue from My Bloody Valentine circa 1988 with bassist Emily Ambruso's only lead vocal, a sticky-sweet indie pop song swimming in blurry, underwater noise.
My only major complaint about the album is that the vocals are too far forward in many songs. Some of the middle tracks ("Imagining the Bodies," "Skating With Girl") are about right, but many songs, including the first two (otherwise, the album's strongest), simply seem to have vocals pasted over the top. While everything is a whirl of sound, Travis Johnson's vocals are bizarrely exposed - which might work if they were better but realistically, vocals are not the band's strongest suit. They aren't bad, by any means, but the melodies are a little underdeveloped and Johnson's voice just a little thin in contrast with the rich tapestry of the instrumentals.
Still, for an album as bold and original as this, you gotta hand it to these guys. Prom is a keeper.