Release Date: Sep 23, 2014
Record label: Everloving
Genre(s): Alt-Country, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Neo-Psychedelia, Surf Revival
It takes a lot these days for the standard guitar/bass/drums/singer set-up to make an impact. The oldest rock and roll format is also the most overused, with seemingly every kid who ever picked up a guitar forming a band in a friend's garage and citing Dylan and The Beatles as influences. The Growlers are a band like any other in this respect, yet their fifth LP proves that they have something a little bit extra.
Be prepared to fall in love with The Growlers all over again. The beach-goth gang have returned with their fourth LP, Chinese Fountain, and it’s an album to blow away the musical cobwebs. The 11 track work was recorded in a week and a half stint and is full of catchy melodies and the band’s wondrously dark, surf-rock sound. There is a real feeling that something has moved on through this record, and the band themselves have described that it has a more grown-up feel about it and that they found the process of putting the album together much more straightforward than they had in the past.
“There’s nothing as depressing as good advice/Nobody wants to hear how to live their life,” go The Growlers on ‘Good Advice’. Eight years, five albums and a fistful of EPs into their garage-pop ride, the Californian fivesome’s carefree sound suggests they’re continuing to ignore the outside world. They’re all the better for it. Opener ‘Big Toe’’s jangles are underwritten with minor key foreboding, while ‘Chinese Fountain’’s chipper fretwork is like Orange Juice given a sunny modern update.
On their last full-length, The Growlers sang about far-off dreams, a magical someday “when tall-boys turn into champagne, when bologna turns into steak.” Since then, they’ve been displaced by a fire that tore through their Costa Mesa, Calif. studio, yet there’s an easygoing vibe across Chinese Fountain that suggests they’re nearly finished turning those tall-boys into the bubbly good stuff. A polish and focus defines the still-hard-to-pinpoint Growlers’ sound, and everything from disco-punk to reggae-flavored songs land with both force and melodic buoyancy.
The Growlers are fundamentally anti-pop. For one, Brooks Nielsen’s listless, drunken drawl reflects the doldrums of modern life; it’s as if he’s a sage for the dirty, psychedelic, perpetually broke garage rock kids that like to keep things “ghetto.” It’s not for everyone. Nielsen’s lyrics are also obsessively self-referential, torn straight from the pages of his tequila-soaked journal of cactus doodles and creepy philosophy.
Dana Point, California’s The Growlers have earned themselves something of a reputation in cultish circles, particularly in the States, since their initial self-released EPs back in 2008. Self-identifying as 'beach goth', a genre they seem to have conjured with their tongues planted in their collective cheek, they garnered a rep for drunken, ostentatious live shows (such as their own Beach Goth Party mini-fest) and predictably lo-fi, retro-hugging recordings. Picked up by the ever-eclectic Fat Cat in the UK for last year’s Hung At Heart, a record more upbeat, or at least lighter in tone than this offering, they’ve chosen to take a step up in terms of production and recording quality for Chinese Fountain, perhaps the one thing of value they may have taken from an abandoned recording session with Dan Auerbach on an early version of Hung… This shift towards musical clarity certainly gives the band a better shot at a wider listening audience and in this instance the quirk that is almost guaranteed to be lost when such changes are made seems to be a pitfall that has been largely and happily avoided.
Jauntiness is a trait with which indie rock’s poppier proponents have wrestled for years now. On paper, there should not be anything wrong with light-heartedness, with tasteful injections of fun into guitar music. An ability to skip, as well as slouch, should be seen as a virtue in an indie band. Yet, particularly in recent years, the more carefree end of indie-pop has been dominated by the kind of bands who seem to define success as a constant position on the playlist in Topman and a slot at XFM’s Winter Wonderland.
The fourth long-player from the self-described "beach goth" collective named after the fetid handiwork of a fruitful outhouse visit and not the more commonplace brewpub takeout vessel of the same moniker, Chinese Fountain sports a derelict mix of psych-tinged surf rock, reggae-pop, dub, new wave, and country that's as bonfire- and hallucinogen-ready and as it is hopelessly ramshackle. An easygoing, distinctly Californian vibe permeates much of the album, as does a tendency to drift off (stylistically) in musical conversation that suggests some choice herbs and fermented grains were utilized during its creation, but the Growlers are amiable enough hosts that the listener never has to endure any epic guitar soloing or shamanistic beach poetry, let alone a song over four and a half minutes. Standout tracks like the dub-ska-kissed "Dull Boy," the evocative, Jim Morrison-inspired "Purgatory Drive," and the spacy, white-boy funk-blasted title cut suggest Camper Van Beethoven by way of Kurt Vile, but too much of Chinese Fountain is spent in search of an engaging melody.