Melt, butter, melt
For those familiar with the Growlers’ sound, the band’s new record offers another serving of that which they love: sticky “beach goth” goodness. For individuals studying the album with a more critical ear, the record, titled Natural Affair, is a slow melting process that reveals something worthy of mention. However, to arrive at that point, the songs need to be presented and commented on, pieced together to ignite the liquefying process. The Growlers force you to listen, to immerse, to discover them.
The appeal of the Growlers’ sound, for so many, comes from the group’s true-to-California vibe: relaxed electric guitar strums, voluptuous-groovy basslines and Brooks Nielsen’s sluggish-appealing vocals all blend to conquer audiences. The band knows their winning formula well, so what can be demanded of them at this point? After nearly fifteen years on the scene, it would seem the band can do as it pleases, experiment, and that is precisely what should be demanded of them.
The album’s opening title track is heavy with the group’s flair as it thumps and grooves its way toward rich choruses layered in that style that fans of the group have learned to adore. The opening track is flamboyant, atmospheric and signature Growlers. The band has not lost a step despite a revolving door of members involved in the project since the last decade. The second track is another strong example of the band’s appeal as “Long Hot Night (Halfway to Certain)” slows down only slightly, leans on its synthesizer embellishments and peacocks its robust rhythm.
“Pulp of Youth” is as surfy as the group gets. Letting the guitar riffs droop, and the bass bubble thickly, the song is an ode to the band’s signature sound. Like watching a stick of butter melt, one is fascinated by the process, unable to turn away from the cascading and goopy goodness; as the conscious mind returns though, one realizes that what they are witnessing is natural and hardly something spectacular. Yes, the group has dance-inducing tracks like “Foghorn Town,” which are sure to make you bob, but why do they sound so familiar? Could it be because one just heard them four tracks ago? Heavy synths, thumping basslines, surfy riffs, passive vocals all shine: the formula works if you stare, or in this case listen, long enough. Once the listener steps away, the process is revealed.
“Truly” is more of the same: layered vocals against slow atmospheric sounds, languid yet immersive. The swing is only broken on occasion in songs like “Stupid Things,” where the group’s indie rock traits take over, exposing an energetic ensemble that is ready to groove, experiment and rock out in true garage fashion. What is left to be desired of the album exists in this tenth track, which reveals, after a slow melting process, a group far more exciting than they often present themselves to be to audiences.
The Growlers, as one of the torch bearers of indie rock, have a duty to experiment beyond their comfortable formula, for better or for worse. This outing is more of the same from the band, and therefore it does not quite disappoint, nor does it satisfy. For a group as seasoned as this one, one would expect more than just a side item served. Natural Affair is rather plain for the Growlers but as good as you want it to be; the same can be said of a piece of toast with butter.