Ethan Gruska
En Garde


4.0
excellent

Review

by SowingSeason STAFF
January 26th, 2020 | 53 replies


Release Date: 01/24/2020 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Dizzying. Gorgeous.

In listening to En Garde, a lot of the same feelings crept up on me as when I first heard Perfume Genius’ No Shape or Alex G’s House of Sugar. There are hints of both to this sophomore solo effort from The Belle Brigade’s multi-instrumentalist Ethan Gruska, which offers a dizzyingly gorgeous blend of minimalist folk and avant-garde pop. En Garde’s canvas sounds like a puzzle of shifting tectonic plates; this conflicting yet totally dynamic blend of aesthetics. Lush, energized, and brimming with novel ideas, En Garde marks a new height for Gruska’s solo career that is as brilliant as it is presumably unforeseen.

Ethan lays everything on the table here: spellbinding pianos, flourishing strings, electronic undercurrents, synth blasts, computerized vocals, and even a guest appearance from Phoebe Bridgers. The opening set of songs whisk you away with breathtaking melodies and a whirlwind of the aforementioned aesthetics. ‘Maybe I’ll Go Nowhere’ and ‘Event Horizon’ are particularly spectacular highlights, displaying Gruska’s smooth, whispery voice amid dreamy atmospheres that are all too easy to get lost in. The album actually does a splendid job of varying its pace and tempo considering how deeply invested it is in the indie/folk scene; ‘Enough For Now’, which features the now revered singer-songwriter Bridgers, is a veritable indie-pop banger awash in a sea of lo-fi numbers, while ‘Another Animal’ bursts forth seemingly out of nowhere with its synth-driven grooves. ‘Nervous System’ defies En Garde’s entire aura with low-key industrial influences. ‘Dialing Drunk’ is ironically quite sobering, a depressing yet range-showcasing vocal ballad that sounds like it could have been co-written by Bruno Mars (which in this case is meant as a compliment). This album seems to have an entire spectrum of sounds covered in its purview without ever sounding like it is reaching too far or spreading itself too thin.

If it seems like I’m laying the praise on a bit thick, one area where En Garde fails to impress much is the lyrical department. The verses here are serviceable, but do not carry much emotional heft – which sees Gruska (perceivably, at least) fail to capitalize on this beautiful, swirling snow globe of sounds with any sort of overarching theme or statement. Still, the music does quite the admirable job of carrying this entire experience on its own, offering a plethora of mesmerizing moments that utilize a wide array of instruments and studio effects to achieve sonic mastery. This is innovative indie-pop/folk at its finest; a career statement for Ethan Gruska that will most assuredly cast at least some influence over forthcoming releases in this still young decade.



s
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user ratings (24)
3.1
good

Comments:Add a Comment 
SowingSeason
Moderator
January 26th 2020


33646 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Alright, here's my first true hype train album of the decade. I probably would have insta-5'd this in the past but new decade, new me. All jokes aside, this is excellent and deserves a listen from any fan of indie-pop/folk/lo-fi genres.

Also, my advanced apologies for the onslaught of reviews today - my sput-life is now literally compressed into a 2-4 hour window on Sundays where I can step away from dad duties and be on a computer.

Digging: Ellis - Born Again

theBoneyKing
January 26th 2020


18542 Comments


Huh, I dug The Belle Brigade a fair bit but found Ethan's solo debut pretty boring so wasn't going to bother with this, will have to try it I guess.

JohnnyoftheWell
Contributing Reviewer
January 26th 2020


22643 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

This is pretty nice, not a big fan of his voice and I'm not convinced it's quite as innovative as the review implies (elements of this would maybe have been avant-garde in the early '10s!) but it's competently done, might bump with another listen

"‘Enough For Now’, which features the now revered singer-songwriter Bridgers"

Evidently she's revered enough that her first name is a moot point (commiserations to Bruno Mars for not getting the same treatment) ;] Liked this song a lot, although her feature felt a little token

Digging: Bambara - Stray

SowingSeason
Moderator
January 26th 2020


33646 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Wow that was a quick turnaround. Had you already heard it before I posted the review?

Agree about the "innovation" to an extent. It's not genre-busting but it's definitely creative, which I guess is more what I was getting at.

JohnnyoftheWell
Contributing Reviewer
January 26th 2020


22643 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Nope haha, gave it a full listen when I saw this go up though! And agreed, it definitely covers a respectable amount of ground for what it goes for

theBoneyKing
January 26th 2020


18542 Comments


Evidently she's revered enough that her first name is a moot point

Her full name was mentioned earlier in the review

SowingSeason
Moderator
January 26th 2020


33646 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Also you posted your comment/rating sooner after the posting of my review than the actual runtime of the album, but I wasn't going to say anything. Must have been a skim ;)

JohnnyoftheWell
Contributing Reviewer
January 26th 2020


22643 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Was definitely a full listen! Admittedly, was listening on my laptop and planning on heading out, so considered skipping the last couple of tracks so I could leave earlier - but thought better of this in the end. Perhaps I posted that comment at around the 10th song mark, but it's cogent with my vibe on the last few tracks if so ;]

"Her full name was mentioned earlier in the review"

So it was! My bad

JohnnyoftheWell
Contributing Reviewer
January 26th 2020


22643 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Giving this a courtesy follow-up jam and Event Horizon is doing it for me. Sowing, you getting any Amnesiac vibes off this one? Chords and vocals seem to be speaking a similar language

theBoneyKing
January 26th 2020


18542 Comments


Sowing have you heard anything by the Belle Brigade, his original project with his sister? Used to jam them quite a bit.

SowingSeason
Moderator
January 26th 2020


33646 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

@Johnny: Ah, my misjudgment then. Definitely let me know if it grows on you, I'm loving this. And yes at times re:Amnesiac.

@Boney: Nope, only ever heard solo Gruska. I'm assuming you asked for a reason, so I'll check Belle Brigade soon!

theBoneyKing
January 26th 2020


18542 Comments


Was just curious. They’re def a solid band but I imagine pretty different than this - Belle Brigade were a very breezy, California-sounding project. Strong harmonies (which I missed on Slowmotionary). Gained momentum originally for their being John Williams’ grandchildren but it’s nice to see Ethan has moved past that into his own identity.

SowingSeason
Moderator
January 27th 2020


33646 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I'll check them out of curiosity because of how much I loved this. Let me know what you think of this if you get a chance to follow up and listen.

butt.
January 27th 2020


7088 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

LOL sowing, I literally just listened to this earlier today and was about to recommend it to you. seemed right up your alley and I couldn't believe it only had 3 votes. two hours later....a sowing review appears. this shit is seriously good, the production is so rich and detailed.

SowingSeason
Moderator
January 27th 2020


33646 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Agreed about the production. This thing is so gorgeous. The songwriting is great but it's the way they finished everything in the studio that makes it special.

butt.
January 27th 2020


7088 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Surprised you didnt mention Haiku4U. That one is so haunting and entrancing

SowingSeason
Moderator
January 27th 2020


33646 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

In all honesty I just didn't have time to cover this in as much detail as I wanted so I went for brevity (see first post). And yes, that track is one of my favorites. It's downright amazing.

SowingSeason
Moderator
January 28th 2020


33646 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Kind of a loose TBT scoring for me at this point. I think Event Horizon is the biggest highlight, but this doesn't have a weak link. Blood in Rain is gorgeous and bound to go unrecognized by most.

1 Maybe I'll Go Nowhere - 4.5/5

2 Event Horizon - 5/5

3 On the Outside - 3.5/5

4 Enough for Now (Ft. Phoebe Bridgers) - 4.5/5

5 Dialing Drunk - 3.5/5

6 Crash Cart - 4/5

7 Another Animal - 4/5

8 Haiku4U (Ft. Lianne La Havas) - 4/5

9 Attacker - 3.5/5

10 Blood in Rain (Ft. Moses Sumney) - 4.5/5

11 Nervous System - 3.5/5

12 Teenage Drug - 4/5

WatchItExplode
January 29th 2020


7886 Comments


I did not find Haiku4U haunting and/or entrancing. -_-

SowingSeason
Moderator
January 29th 2020


33646 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Yeah that one grew off me a tad. Others have really grown on though, especially Event Horizon and Blood in Rain. The lyrics to Crash Cart are also deeper than I initially realized.



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