Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Grownup Noise - This Time With Feeling

The Grownup Noise - This Time With Feeling
2011, The Grownup Noise

The Grownup Noise has been a work in progress for several years now.  Percolating their Indie Power Folk sound in the musical cauldron of Boston, the band made a distinctive impression with their self-titled debut album in 2007.  Four years and five coast-to-coast tours later, The Grownup Noise continues to evolve their eclectic brand of avant-garde folk and pop, offering up a plethora of sounds and styles on their sophomore album, This Time With Feeling.  The four Berklee College of music grads who make up The Grownup Noise, Paul Hansen (vox/guitar/keys); Adam Sankowski (bass/keys/vox); Katie Franich (cello/keys/vox) and Aine Fujioka (drums/vox) continue to surprise with outlooks and arrangements that are atypical yet surprisingly gratifying.

This Time With Feeling opens with "The Strawmen", a socio-political commentary on a rudderless society with clueless or worse individuals in charge.  Delivered in a conversational melodic style reminiscent of Kevin Hearn (Barenaked Ladies); the stark chorus and streaming verses are a nice touch to open with.  "Anthem For Second Place" is mildly catchy but too mono-thematic to really maintain the listener's attention.  There's a lack of dynamics here that is disappointing.  "Flower" suffers from the same malady, although the instrumentation could be magical with a bit more range involved.  The lack of dynamic change gives this one a droning sound it doesn't deserve to bear.

"Carnival" documents the intriguing tug and weave of relationships, needs and preconceptions.  The Grownup Noise hit the ground running with a memorable melody that grows into an even better chorus.  While a bit obscure stylistically, the song weaves a straight ahead story-telling style into an enigmatic arrangement that will have you hitting repeat.  "Six Foot Solemn Oath" delivers a power-folk sound that's full and layered under a constant lyrical barrage.  Franich offers superb depth with her backing vocal here.  The band achieves a quasi-new wave feel on "The Artist Type", juxtaposing a sense of manic excess with an understated style that works better than you might expect.  The fact that the melody is virulently catchy helps the process along.

"So It Goes" offers some of the most impressive instrumentation on the album, giving a glimpse of the depth of musical talent in the band.  "Just So You Know" builds a solid hook into a great chorus that will set up shop in your noggin and stay awhile.  The Grownup Noise build a pretty shell of instrumentation that's peppy, while the lyrics convey a hopelessness that is simultaneously in conflict with and complementary to the arrangement.  "Attention" documents the fleeting nature of time and the freedom of youth.  It's a great, atypical number and is among the best work The Grownup Noise has done to date.  On "Gone Is A Four Letter Word", the band takes listeners through eight minutes of musical reflections on a relationship lost and hanging on to whatever scraps may present themselves.  Written in two distinctive song parts, the song just hangs on too long.  This Time With Feeling closes with the anti-climactic and mundane "Somehow We Escaped".  The song bookends the album well from a content perspective, but together with "Gone Is A Four Letter Word" forms a clumsy closing duo that seem inconsistent with the vibe The Grownup Noise has spent nearly forty-five minutes building.

This Time With Feeling represents a number of interesting choices by The Grownup Noise.  It appears to be an album about decline, whether in the wider world or in a particular relationship.  It's interesting because there are clear signs that the band has taken significant steps forward since the release of The Grownup Noise in 2007.  Nevertheless, there are also signs that the band is stuck in some of their own pre-conceptions about what their sound should be.  At times it almost appears that they are fighting against their own natural musical tendencies to create an intended sound rather than to simply create.  It is a mark of each respective member's inherent musical talents that This Time With Feeling turned out as good as it did; and it is quite good.  There's just a sense of conflict and uncertainty here that could become The Grownup Noise's Achilles heel, or be the catalyst that drives them on to greater things.  Here's hoping for the latter.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5) 

Learn more about The Grownup Noise at www.thegrownupnoise.com or www.reverbnation.com/thegrownupnoiseThis Time With Feeling is available on CD from Amazon.com.  The album is available digitally via iTunes.