The Growlers - City Club

by Texacaliago Rating:6 Release Date:2016-09-30

Beach Goth.

That’s the phrase coined to describe The Growlers’ distinctive sound over the years, a phrase the band embraced by creating their own festival in its name held each year.  But the phrase has always been a bit of a misnomer in many ways, considering the band typically displays many subtle flavors in their music.  Everything from rockabilly, country, garage-rock, to neo-psych have reared their heads in The Growlers’ sound, but it is typically filtered through a uniquely despondent, surfy, and soporific lens that has always been the band’s claim to fame.

On The Growler’s last full length album (2014’s Chinese Fountain) the band experimented with a more streamlined sound which featured some occasionally danceable/synthy beats and overall more polished production.  This caught some fans off guard, but given that Brooks Nielsen was able to turn in some of his most sincere and affecting lyrics of his career certainly helped cancel out any potential negatives associated with Chinese Fountain’s somewhat glossy vibe.

Two years the later, The Growlers have returned with the Julian Casablancas produced City Club, an album which finds the band incorporating a significantly synthier/new wave vibe into their sound while essentially abandoning the patented surfy undertones that have always been an integral part of their music.  This wouldn’t necessarily be such a bad thing if it weren’t for the fact that they have also seemed to abandon the affecting and scraggly magic (for lack of a better term) that characterized their best songs (“Someday” and “One Million Lovers” for example).  The production is so overtly beat-driven and glossy on most of these songs that it really sucks any soul right out of the band’s sound. 

On City Club, The Growlers essentially surrender themselves to Julian Casablancas’s post-punk/new wave pretensions, which I suppose is great if you’re a fan of that era of music, but regardless it just doesn’t really seem to jive with The Growlers’ essence as a band.  That’s not to say there aren’t some “pretty” moments to be found here, it’s just that they’re pretty in a superficial type of way.  Case in point is the title track, which sounds kind of cute and danceable, but there’s simply not much below the surface (and the melody is a bit lacking).  The same could be said about most of the other tracks on the album, but some of the beats are undeniably infectious…if you want to be transported back to some glittery new wave club straight from 1982 (i.e. “Dope on a Rope”). 

The best moments on the album come when the band doesn’t completely indulge in their new wave pretensions and actually come up with something kind of groovy, like on the standout track “I’ll Be Around” which actually has a beat you can dance to without feeling too embarrassed about it.  The Growlers do the post-punk thing best when they get a little darker with their music, like on the borderline gothy “Vacant Lot” and “Rubber & Bone”.  These songs are interesting, but only because of their somewhat dreadful vibe, which doesn’t exactly make them good songs in the grand scheme of things, just mildly compelling.  There are a couple of songs that attempt to break from the generally icy mood of the album, like the relatively refreshing and cheerful “Daisy Chain” and the lively closing track “Speed Living”, but by then it’s too little too late to save an album that seems a tad too infatuated with partying like it’s 1982.

Speaking of 1982, a good microcosm of my broader frustrations with this album can be found on the song “When You Were Made”.  The bones of this song have all the affecting hallmarks of a potentially great Growlers tune, but the airy/glittery synth that saturates it with a magically cheesy aura really kills any possibility of that for me personally. 

In a nutshell, if you’re a fan of danceable new wave, and the generally overly produced sound that characterizes too many popular bands currently, you may find much to like on City Club.  But if you’re a fan of all the classic hallmarks that made The Growlers a special band, chances are this album will likely leave you fairly disappointed.

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