June 18, 2009

What Heights?

Boston, MA
Produced by Growlers | Recorded and mixed by Steve “HB” Perski & Those Guyz at Grandma’s Studio in Astoria, NY | Rhythm tracks recorded by Erica Borkowski and Charles Anastasia at CDIA in Waltham, MA | Mastered by NickZampiello at New Alliance East in Cambridge, MA

It’s often difficult for artists to break out of their comfort zone and develop new material that “doesn’t sound like us.” Sliding back into established and successful patterns like a late-Saturday drunken booty text message can seem unavoidable. Pushing forward is tough enough, but then you have Growlers, the slamming alter-ego rock mutation of Boston’s punky-dub establishment Destroy Babylon. They don’t just stretch boundaries, they blast apart an already mighty Voltron and reform into a Death Star with their debut, What Heights?

After a boiling bass rumble from Chris Moran and a scratchy riffing assault intro that conjures a glitch-less Trent Reznor, Growlers erupts from its ripe Jamaican Babylon buds with Marc Beaudette’s Gatling-tom assault on “Lap Dance” and announces: “No more kisses/It’s just business.” The now-established theatrical vibe, all blink-less captivating direction without Hollywood cheese, persists throughout the record. “Lap Dance” flows straight into guitarist John Beaudette’s trumpet-commanded battle march “All But The Bones” as the act pushes on. Guitarist Rob Carmichael’s voice has a pureness to it that insists on empathy and breathes life into the story of the verses. While remaining stunningly solid, his gentle inflections and well-placed imperfections expose the passion underneath the power. Visions of Angel Dust–era Faith No More in all their sonic glory and bittersweet nostalgia flicker across the Growlers big screen.

The record benefits from tight production permitting effortless identification of each part, but still enables a total package that synergizes a sum greater than its parts. Tasty squelches, swoops and delay top the aural cake like pinches of sprinkles, not carelessly slathered icing.

“Crawl,” can almost be called dub with its accented hi-hat and bass undercurrent, but it patiently transforms as foglight vocals slice through haze and ambitious drums leave the pattern behind to crescendo into an avalanche of time-keeping fills. This reluctance to follow predictable patterns is a pattern that serves the band well throughout the album.

After some spacey interludes and the Spanish guitar excursion of “Blue Ribbon,” Growlers finish strong and serious with the sad, multi-voice harmonies of “Five Weeks.” “Do you ever change?” Carmichael cries and begs after climactic shredding, leading the acoustic strumming and tinkling piano-backed lament into the lap steel confessional “The Likes.” Despite the diamond-crunching pressure at the top of What Heights?, the dual-finale proves even more engaging as the line “I’ve never seen a fire burn, but not consume” testifies. (self-released)

-Nate Leskovic

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