Thursday 2 May 2024

Grains - Grains (2024)

Country: New Zealand
Style: Electronic/Space Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 12 Apr 2024
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | YouTube

Here's something interesting from down under. Grains, who hail from Wellington, which marks as far south as you can go and remain in a capital city, apparently started out as a duo playing synth ambience but they bulked up 2021 to a five piece band. They're primarily electronic, but they run quite the gamut within that. How? opens up as almost new wave, like Tangerine Dream with some welcome throat singing. I am loving how that's travelling far from Mongolia nowadays. Then Ever adds a beat and starts to explore the potential of what five guys playing these instruments can do.

I like Ever, which is over in fewer than five minutes but still moves from pop music into space rock and on into something more esoteric. Sometimes this feels acutely poppy, especially early in Unco and Flying Saucer, which appears to be an old piece of music condensed a little for this, their debut album. There's disco on Unco and there's new wave on Flying Saucer, but both evolve elsewhere. In the former, electric guitars float around deep underneath the synths and gradually surface as the piece runs on. That's quite a tasty solo building towards the two minute mark and a neatly delicate section just after four.

The latter is one of the two epics the album has to offer, L.O.T.A.F! being the other one. Any track here could easily have been extended far past its actual running time, but Grains only allow some extended exploration on these two. They do think about it on Unco too, which almost reaches the seven minute mark, but they haul it back in well before it can sprawl out of control. Flying Saucer starts out poppier than usual, a very old school lead synth backed by far more modern synths, but it also gets heavier than usual late in its first half and again during its second.

If it wasn't for the overt guitars midway through L.O.T.A.F!, then Flying Saucer would feature the poppiest and heaviest moments of the album, which ought to give a good idea of how far it shifts over its eight and a half minutes. And that's a good thing. Anything that trawls in space rock even as a component really ought to take the listener on a journey and I got that the most here on this one highly versatile track. L.O.T.A.F! took me on a journey too but a much darker one that isn't to out there but to in here, which gets experimental and claustrophobic.

It's the longer pieces that connect with me the most, the two epics but also Unco and, after them, the closer, Succession II, which is pure electronic rock in the seventies tradition but introduced to space rock and with layers of extra electronic chirps. It's like walking into a maximalist spaceship control room with ADHD. This one's only five and a half minutes long, which isn't sprawling for the fourth longest piece on an instrumental electrona album. I say instrumental, by the way, because not one of these pieces involves the delivery of lyrics but there are vocals here, whether they're recorded or sampled, just occasional vocalisations and that throat singing on How?

That's not to say that the shorter pieces don't work, but they're far less ambitious. How? sets the scene and Ever is an introduction to where we might be going. Pans is more than a pleasant interlude, but for half its running time it seems to be exactly that. It does get more interesting in its second half but I don't think it quite figures out what it wants to be. And Succession I is evocative from its very first moments, as if it's dumped us into a rainforest and we have to figure out which one. However, it's easily the shortest piece here and it never answers the questions it asks. Succession II seems a lot more confident about shifting to answers within a couple of seconds.

I like this a lot and it's easy to get completely subsumed by it, but how substantial it really is may depend on many further listens. Grains have been around for a few years now, with their earliest recordings issued in 2019 on a single called ζ, the Greek letter zeta. Back then, they were the duo of Calum Turner and Peregrin Hyde. Nowadays, there are five of them, with additional cello from a couple of guests. However, I'm expecting that Turner and Hyde still provide the bulk of this on a selection of synthesisers and sequencers. The rest flesh out the sound into something more. Lets see where they go from here, because I have a feeling that they're going to keep evolving.

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