Review: Surprise release of Casual Acquaintances puts The Growlers back on track
Before I begin to touch this album I feel the need to state a couple things. First of all, I love The Growlers. They’re in my personal holy trinity of music so take my positive critiques with a grain of salt. Second, I wasn’t a huge fan of their last album, City Club. It wasn’t a bad album, it just wasn’t a classic Growlers album to me, which is fine. Bands should grow and change and I encourage it. However, I felt producer Julian Casablancas’ influence was a little too apparent. I prefer The Growlers’ earlier work so any negative critiques I have must also be taken with a grain of salt — bias, baby.
Soon after the album’s release (which can be considered their 4th, 7th, or 10th album depending on who you ask) the band tweeted that Casual Acquaintances is composed of “demos, works-in-progress, and other unfinished business” from City Club. These tracks are certainly unpolished compared to the finished business of its predecessor. Fortunately, I think this production style serves as a sort of return-to-form for the band. Still missing are the eerie, echoing synths and the dissonant sounds of stoned-out surfers trapped in a haunted house. Instead, here’s an album which provides a more natural stepping stone between Chinese Fountain and City Club.
Long-time fans may miss the sounds of Matt Taylor’s reverb-soaked riffs. While limited, his guitar work complements the album well with riffs remicensent of The Cure — a new influence for the band. The only member who may be feeling a little left out is rhythm guitarist Kyle Straka. He’s gradually seen his role decrease as his synth duties have been handed over to unofficial member Wolcott Smith, leaving him to double up on more than a few of Taylor’s riffs during live shows.
Fortunately, ever present are the sultry, cigarette-stained vocals of Brooks Nielsen. His signature delivery is masked with as much of a vocal filter as you’d expect, and compared to his mostly clean vocals on City Club, these are classic, Hung at Heart-like vocals.
Nielsen’s lyrical topics have reflected his life as he ages. Gone are the days of wandering through “Tijuana,” replaced with the days of settling down with a wife and two kids. “Problems III” reflects upon these changes. It reminds me of City Club’s “Night Ride” which sang of growing too old for coke-fueled, alcohol induced nights of mistakes. Instead, “Problems III” takes on the frustrations of keeping a relationship and life together as times goes on. He sings “Problems come in threes / Then we beat them down / It’s nothing compared to the hangovers we’ve shared.” Nielsen looks to find happiness with his wife by comparing their current struggles to those of the past — recalling how easy those were to overcome.
A first glance at “Orgasm of Death” is… uh… interesting, to say the least. It’s a title that just really sticks with you, you know? The intro reminds me of something an edgier Two Door Cinema Club would come up with. Eccentric title aside, it’s one of the highlights of the album. Lines like “It’s time, time’s what I can’t control / Same as you / Fear of going back to find all the nothingness we left behind,” really stick with me and make me feel a little emotional. Who isn’t scared of the helplessness we experience at the mercy of time? Or what about going back to something you longed for, only to find out there was never anything there? Heart-wrenching and spooky stuff.
Don’t worry, Nielsen provides a solution to all these fears: how about we simply hide until we die? Maybe not what I would suggest, but hey, I’m open to suggestions. In the lyrical peak of the song, Nielsen sings, “Let’s not show our faces till the end / Till our dreaming slows / Till nothing's left / When we meet the orgasm of death.” I think he means death is orgasmic because there’s less uncertainty in death than daily life. All our problems go away in one final, orgasmic moment of peace.
“Neveah” could be a great opener if it wasn’t for the fact that it fades out after a mere 37 seconds. Low points are tracks like “Pavement and the Boot” and “Thing for Trouble.” For the sake of this review, I powered through them, but if I had my choice, I would scrap them both and call Casual Acquaintances an EP. The builds throughout “Thing for Trouble” just feels out of place, unnecessary, and odd. Fortunately, the weird ending is countered by the smooth and appealing intro of “Last Cabaret” and the fantastic finale, “Casual Acquaintances.”
All in all, I like Casual Acquaintances. It gives me hope that the Growlers weren’t selling out with City Club — only experimenting with their sound. Could Casual Acquaintances be better? Definitely. Should fans be pleasantly surprised? Without a doubt.
6 - Neat
Top Tracks: Problems III, Orgasm of Death, Casual Acquaintances
For fans of: Chinese Fountain, a more approachable version of The Voidz, garage pop
Pros: Classic lo-fi sound of the Growlers, relatable lyrics
Cons: Tonally stale, a few too many skippable tracks