Review Summary: A pure guitar album in the vein of Sonic Youth, Pavement and any other 90's influence you may care to name, when Grooms are firing on all cylinders, it's tough to deny their talent and enjoyability. (7.8/10)
Brooklyn three-piece Grooms (formerly known as Muggabears) are refreshingly similar. After a bombardment of 80’s-soaked projects dominating alternative music over the past few years, many will find a welcome respite in a place “where guitars sound like guitars” (as frontman Travis Johnson sings on “Fag Feels Good“); Neon Indian is great and all, but there comes a point where Galaga, acid-washed jeans, and synths aren‘t going to hit the spot the way irony and dissonant guitars do (question yourself: Pavement or Tears For Fears"). Instead, Grooms take their influence from a decade later, mish-mashing them together to create a wholly listenable and satisfying indie rock album. Of course, the influences are apparent, so don‘t be surprised when Johnson snarls (sometimes) ironic, obscure lyrics like a young (gasp!) Stephen Malkmus, or when his always dissonant guitars slide through wiry, grooving riffs reminiscent of (shock!) Sonic Youth, or when the tracks break down into swells of feedback and noise that may recall (horror!) Dinosaur Jr. So, yes, Grooms aren’t looking to innovate or fascinate so much as much they are looking to take you through a largely enjoyable stroll down Classic Indie Lane, but when this trip is performed as well as Grooms do on Rejoicer, there isn’t much to complain about. Accept Grooms for what they are, another in a long line of Brooklyn guitar bands heavily influenced by every other Brooklyn guitar band‘s influences, and this very solid album can be appreciated at the fullest.
Opener “Dreamsucker” sets the stage for what to expect from most of the record; from out of a bubbling swell of feedback comes a speedy, driving beat, and oddly-toned, loosely-played guitars that alternate from slithery riffs to forceful distortion. Put all this over Johnson’s snarl, add in a few guitar workouts, listen to the band really lock into their own groove, and there you have how to create a great indie rock song. There’s no doubt that Grooms are nothing if not very talented, as the tracks, for the most part, remain very tight while still retaining an enjoyably sloppy feel, always seeming like things could become derailed at any minutes, yet always remaining under control.
The first half of Rejoicer tinkers little with this effective formula, and as a result is the most enjoyable part of the album. “Thumbs” rides by on a memorable riff and the contrast between its quiet dissonance and the waves of noise that eventually swathe the song; “At the Pool” sees drummer Jim Sykes impress with his post-math feel even when sounding like he’s playing a tin sheet rather than actual drums at some points, and even adds in some tambourines for good measure; “Acid King of Hell (Guitar Feelings)” grooves along with bassist Emily Ambruso adding in some soothing background vocal “oohs” and “ahhs”, almost relaxing the listener before the whole thing goes to guitar and feedback hell with a killer breakdown section.
Things take a turn for the marginally worse on the second half starting with “Ghost Cat”, as the riffage and grooving that make the preceding songs such a treat is largely lost, instead dropping the melodic feel in favor for a focus on the ambient, dissonant and almost experimental. The juxtaposition is, at the least, fascinating, giving Rejoicer a sort of schizophrenic vibe to it contrasting the madness of “Ghost Cat”, “C.J.”, and “She-bears” with the relatively bright (by comparison) tone of “Dreamsucker”, “Acid King of Hell (Guitar Feelings)” and the like. In fact, this sudden shift in emotion can be considered a theme of Rejoicer as a whole, as seen by the constantly changing rhythms, guitar lines, and dynamics, often switching from a quieter menace to a loud madness. Also playing into this idea is Johnson’s vocal performance, which fits the aesthetic of the band nicely but remains quivery and uncertain throughout, mostly singing about topics too obscure to be identifiable. Overall, the structure of the album is most reminiscent to Deerhunter’s Microcastle, but where as that album’s ambient pieces were well-crafted and emotionally affecting, these pieces feel more lazily put-together and self-indulgent, throwing out hollow noise with no real emotional push with it.
Along with Cymbals Eat Guitars, Bear in Heaven, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, and Japandroids (to an extent), Grooms can be seen as a potential torch-bearer for the 90’s indie revival scene that is developing more and more with each new band that arrives on the blogosphere’s doorstep. While Rejoicer doesn’t quite reach the potential of those band’s highs (Post-Nothing and Why There Are Mountains), this album is still very promising for an official debut, suggesting that better things could be in store for the future. Although a little misguided and lacking of a real overall direction, Rejoicer is still a delectable piece of indie rock that reaches great highs when Grooms is working at the top of their game. While there’ll always be a place for synths and electro-pop in today’s scene, Rejoicer goes towards showing that that mystical place “where guitars sound like guitars” will still always be home to many an indie rock fan.