Two years on from the release of their debut album Plastic Cough Seattle grunge pop band Great Grandpa return with their new album Four of Arrows. Aptly named for the tarot card, which means a celebration of achievement, we find a band who have matured, evolved and honed their sound to the next level. There is a confidence in these songs which has only been hinted at up until now.
Let’s dive in.
We open with ‘Dark Green Water’. A slow burner to ease us into the album. A song about how life is found in all the imperfections, our mistakes. “I fear flawless life in a pure sense” sings lead singer Alex Menne, now realising her full potential as the voice of Great Grandpa. I’ve always felt her voice was hidden in the mix on their previous recordings. Not so here. Her voice is now given the room to soar and the band only lift her to greater heights.
We segue into ‘Digger’ next. This is my album highlight by a country mile. This song absolutely explodes in the choruses in a goose bump inducing way. A song of three distinct sections, it delivers in spades. I can only imagine what this song live will be like live. The band have said that Scotland is high on their list of places to play so fingers crossed.
‘English Garden’ is next and has this folky, pastoral feel which catches you off guard. This is something we haven’t seen from Great Grandpa in the past. Lush strings play off against a banjo and Alex and Pat Goodwin’s dancing vocals. The bands shared love of Math rock is evident on the rhythm of the vocals, straining against the confines of the 4/4 time of the music in the most delightful way.
Lead single ‘Mono No Aware’ is ushered in with an eerie sonar noise and backwards cymbals. The title is a Japanese phrase meaning “the pathos of all things” or an empathy towards things. A song of nostalgia and memory with a chorus that will be sung back to them from front rows across the world on their upcoming tours. Without a doubt their most accessible and yet most uncompromising song to date.
In direct contrast, next we get ‘Bloom’. This song stands out on the album as it sounds like you are listening to it on FM radio. It’s a killer pop song but a strange deviation amongst this collection of songs.
As if to throw us a further curveball we end Side A with ‘Endling’ a piano instrumental recorded on the same piano used on Death Cab for Cuties ‘Transatlanticism’. However, it’s the influence of Radiohead that looms large. A dark and sobering melody that really hooks you in, demanding you pay attention.
We start the flipside with ‘Rosalie’. Written by bassist Carrie Goodwin and her husband Pat it delves into her experiences as a nursing assistant. Starting slow and folky on the acoustic guitar the song ramps up in pace and intensity until its rousing outro. This is one of two songs on this album with painfully raw and honest lyrics. More on that later.
‘Treat Jar’ follows with its exuberant take on the waitress in a diner type song. Again, this track is made for FM radio and deserves prominent airplay.
‘Human Condition’ gives us a taste of the Great Grandpa sound of old. This track wouldn’t have been out of place on their debut Can Opener EP. It has that stop start math rock feel in the transitions between verse and choruses we all love so much. Pats guitar work on this one is exceptional.
This takes us to one of the most moving, brutally honest songs I’ve heard in a long time. ‘Split up the Kids’ is another song from the pages of Carrie Goodwin’s journal. It tells the story of her grandparent’s divorce, where her grandmother took the girls of the family and grandfather the boys. The lyrics are completely on the surface. The pain and distress caused by the situation is evident in every line. Couched amongst the most beautiful acoustic guitar and piano the lyrics leap out the speakers thanks to a magnificent vocal performance from Alex. This is a prime example of this band playing to their strengths and producing something truly outstanding.
The album closes with a rework of the classic Can Opener track ‘Mostly Here’. I was rather baffled by this song’s inclusion here, until it reaches the chorus. Where the song used to fizz it now explodes into that epic “If life’s a dream then I’m not sleeping in” line. Also included is the section where Alex mimics the melody of ‘Where is my Mind’ by Pixies in her own unique way. That section has been a part of this songs live presentation since I first discovered them via the Audiotree Sessions so it’s great to finally hear it committed to record.
I am left in no doubt that this band have delivered one of my albums of 2019 in Four of Arrows. It’s the sound of a group of people working wholly collaboratively, without ego to serve the songs and their fans.
Four of Arrows is out now. For more information on upcoming tours and merchandise check out their website.