New York City’s Grandfather first came to my attention, along with many others, thanks to legendary engineer/producer Steve Albini. During an interview with GQ Magazine, Albini spoke about the pleasure it was to record Grandfather’s debut album Why I’d Try, praising the band for their technique and work ethic in the studio. The trio finished the entire record in only three days, using a majority of first takes, constructing gorgeously dark music that walks a fine line between simple and complex. The connection between Grandfather and Albini is a match made in heaven, as nobody understands dirty analog recording better than Mr. Albini, a life-long supporter of the “less is more” aesthetic. The trio was well aware of the sound they were going for, picked the right man for the job, and the results are absolutely magnificent. Why I’d Try does everything right, the record twitches between orchestral brilliance, gritty post-punk, and cerebral assaults of noise, all falling precisely into place within its sonic puzzle. Their music unfolds in an organic way, gradually awakening toward the eventual chaos with a calm yet shaky atmosphere. Locked tight in stranglehold rhythms delivered in strange time signatures, Grandfather’s debut is the type of record you listen to on repeat… for days on end.
The album explodes the moment you hit play as “You’re Strange” gives first taste of what Grandfather have cooked up, offering a wide glimpse of their world. The groove heavy rhythm section of vocalist/drummer Joshua Hoffman and bassist Jonathan Silverman collide directly into Michael Kirsch’s massive guitar squall, erupting in a bizarre but glorious melody. Hoffman sings “If it’s all for nothing / none of us can win / If it’s all or nothing / I’m all in,” during the hook, a statement that rings true throughout the entire record. The song dips in and out of its sludgy attack, contorting in all directions, experimenting with beloved atonal 90’s Dischord grooves, and even dropping out the rhythm all together while Hoffman belts “it’s already been before so they cannot help it…” before the final crescendo bursts forward into harmonious spacey territory. “Tremors,” one of the album’s stand-out moments, opens with a hypnotic rhythmic bliss residing somewhere between Shellac and Portishead. Silverman’s bass ensnares your attention as Kirsch’s guitar work skids around in dizzying rotations, swirling with exciting effects around the dense rhythm. The guys are exceptionally tight, proving it without pretension, pounding out infectious song writing that crawls under your skin and leaves you itching for more. “AWOL” is urgent and erratic, pushing into psychedelic territory while the focus remains on the odd meters and visceral guitars. The intensity stays at a boiling pitch for the entire ride, a short dash to the finish with the entire band’s “guns blazing”.
“In The Shadow of a Doubt” pulls the record back to its slow burning atmosphere, creating long standing tension before releasing in furious outbursts. There is an unmistakable orchestral quality to their music residing in movements within each song, evident here as the quaking guitars manipulate noise with sheer symphonic control. This is not your typical shoegaze wall-of-sound, Grandfather’s musical maelstrom is carefully constructed and delivered in perfect time with the triumphant crash of the drums. “Caught Off Guard,” another definite highlight, slinks forward with a deep gut punching low end as Hoffman’s worn vocals add gorgeous melody to the chaotic post-apocalyptic ambiance. The atmosphere clears momentarily before the tension drives headfirst into the storm, Hoffman bellowing at his most visual, “If it’s up to us I don’t know how / There’s nothing I would not allow / That’s all gone now / If it’s all too much than turn it down / To gasp for air is not to drown / It’s all gone now”. “By Myself” opens with restraint from the usual rhythmic clutch, trickling about with angular guitar work before eventually crashing into mesmerizing contusions of jaw dropping minor chord progressions. Ringing out in a quiet/loud succession, Kirsch’s guitar playing is put front and center, showcasing his tightly constructed experimental structures and dazzling tonality in an assortment of decibel levels.
“It’s Good Enough Now” finds Hoffman’s vocals reaching into new territory, with the bleak shakiness of his voice floating over the mix suspended in thin air. It isn’t until the vocals fade that the band really digs into their volume knobs, waiting until the last fleeting moments before crashing the party. The guitar attack stings with a stunning tone similar to what a cross between Fugazi and Failure may have sounded like. “No One Knows No One,” plods along with delicately expanding notes that drip like a leaky faucet, slowly dropping one by one. Kirsch’s guitar slides with the graceful sweeping sound of a violin as Hoffman sings, “In the end there’s nothing more / Cause we have all been here before,” a sentiment not reflected in their ever evolving music. There is a definite degree of familiarity in their sound, but Grandfather has developed any influences into their own three-headed monster that is truly unique. All good things must come to an end, and “The Outcome” delivers with a bang. Haunting guitars chime together with a rattling rhythmic dirge as Hoffman cries out, “What’s done is done / this is the outcome” while the band pause for a second before erupting into their final descent of jagged guitar filled beauty.
I have listened to this album over and over and over again since I first got it months ago, and it only seems to get more interesting as I’ve become increasingly familiar. The lyrics are simple yet strangely impactful, the melodic bass lines combined with complex drum patterns are hypnotic and clever, and the enveloping skittish guitars are genuinely something to envy. Grandfather have released one of the best debut records of the past decade, so do yourself a favor and get yourself a copy immediately. Why I’d Try is available as a free digital download at www.grandfathermusic.com. For Grandfather, the time is now. These guys are only getting started and already have created a masterpiece.
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