At the Gallows of a Rewrite
In a resurgent milieu of psych and garage acts like Ty Segall and Thee Oh Sees, a close follower would be remiss to neglect The Growlers, another California-based group with a revivalist bent—i.e. a fetish for sounding like that bargain-bin EP you found at Woolworth in ’68. But where Segall tends toward Seeds-like snottiness and Thee Oh Sees sound like The Kinks playing at a mental hospital, The Growlers often tread on sea-saltier waters, and their third long player, Hung at Heart, proves no exception.
Many of the album’s songs lurch and reel like a storm-tossed vessel, with vocalist Brooks Nielsen barking nasal orders as the rest of the crew row and plod like scurvied skeleton men. “Salt on a Slug” wobbles with jaundiced singing and boggy-pier menace, while “Burden of the Captain” goes “full ghost pirate,” à la The Doors at their rummiest: Guitarist Matt Taylor invokes the sea shanty strings of Robby Krieger as drummer Scott Montoya bangs with dusty-bones abandon. There’s a reason The Growlers are self-described purveyors of “Beach Goth.”
But not all of Hung at Heart is a pirate’s treasure. The cuts run too long and too samey, too often. By the time you hit “Row,” a kind of boogie board’s ride down an LSD-mottled river, The Growlers’ surf-specter formula starts to lose its ectoplasmic charm. Structures and melodies seem to drone and collide to a dulling degree, and singer Nielsen toes the line of musical laziness in his recurrent parroting of Strokes frontman Julian Casablancas. “In Between,” “Pet Shop Eyes” and—if you can imagine—“Someday,” which isn’t a cover of the famous Strokes hit, sound a little too close for comfort.
Still, Hung at Heart has its moments. The reggae sway of “One Million Lovers” bops along with a doo-wop bassline and memorable chorus, whereas “Living in a Memory” breaks the monotony with a quality recasting of the high-lonesome sound. It’s just that despite the consistent musicianship and to-a-tee engineering, the material isn’t without its sog—and its exactly that slushiness, that slightly off discretion in editing and rewriting, that drowns this otherwise interesting album.