[Album review, written March 2011, submitted to Rocket St. magazine May 2011]
When unsigned New York trio Grandfather felt ready to record their debut album, they had to make their own choices about how to fund, record and distribute it to a public largely unaware of their existence. Thanks to some astute decisions and one deserved stroke of luck, the release of Why I’d Try has not only brought Grandfather’s name to the ears of alternative rock fans worldwide, but also reinforced the benefits of musical independence
Why I’d Try was paid for by pledges from Grandfather’s fanbase through open-access funding website Kickstarter, recorded ‘as live’ over three days in Chicago’s Electrical Audio studio, and released as a free download (artwork included) from the group’s own site www.grandfathermusic.com within the week (a limited run of heavy-duty vinyl and CDs was also paid for and sold by the band).
Serendipitously, Electrical Audio’s owner Steve Albini was interviewed by GQ magazine shortly after. His recommendation of Grandfather’s self-sufficient actions greatly boosted the band’s international profile.
With Albini’s renowned engineering expertise (and fellow Shellac member Bob Weston on mastering duties), Why I’d Try inevitably sounds superb. The live takes capture Grandfather’s muscular sound at full strength, even when, as on many tracks, the band is ploughing a dense, downtempo furrow.
An avoidance of overdubs means both guitarist Michael Kirsch and drummer Joshua Hoffman frequently strain to project their vocals over Grandfather’s wall of noise. This adds to the desperate edge of many of their desolate lyrics – opener You’re Strange’s “The hell you wake up to, hide it” sums up the band’s often bleak worldview.
Although Grandfather entered the studio tightly rehearsed and ready to go, time constraints seemingly reduced the number of opportunities to get each song ‘right’ every time. To their credit, there are barely any notable missed notes or cues, and the occasional slip (as during The Outcome’s strangulated guitar solo) instead authenticates the intimacy of the trio’s performances.
Grandfather’s broody seriousness occasionally threatens to plummet right into joylessness, but there are enough bursts of trebly colour from Kirsch’s guitar, splashes of organ tones, and uplifting buoyancy from bassist Jonathan Silverman to hold the attention. When all three musicians lock together in unexpected complexity, as on the thrillingly shrill climax to AWOL, they are riveting.
Why I’d Try is an invigorating listen for anyone interested in where independent American rock is heading, and how it’s going to get there.