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.