Grooms strikes the right balance of accessibility and artistry on their third LP.
Western Vinyl, 2013
7.3 / 10
A lot of folks describe Grooms’ music with a “slacker” prefix. Slacker rock. Slackerpop. Slacker indie. It’s a misnomer. The band’s music might feel loose or comfortable, but all of the songs on their third album, Infinity Caller, feel very carefully crafted and arranged. There’s enough attention paid towards texturing the guitar’s sound that they ought to be labeled as psychedelic if anything – many of these songs are awash in waves of distorted guitar. It’s clear, it’s light, it’s airy, but above all, it’s tasteful. If anything, Grooms is a psychedelic pop/rock band that prioritizes melody above “trippage” or the slack-factor.
Some of the publicity for Grooms details the mental health of songwriter Travis Johnson – he suffers from a brand of OCD-like obsession known as scrupulosity. This disorder is characterized by unwanted and intrusive thoughts of guilt in regards to religious issues. Imagine the popular depiction of OCD with germophobic populations, but substitute ideas of contamination and illness with ruminations of burning for eternity in hellfire. Pretty horrifying stuff, right? For better or worse, Infinity Caller is devoid of such anxiety and guilt. Johnson avoids the topic completely by focusing on songs about love (“I Think We’re Alone Now”, “Iskra Goodbye”), friends (“Completely”), and memory (“Play”, “Susie Jo”). Lyrically, Infinity Caller is pretty light, and the album might have benefited from a little more emotional heft.
Grooms uses a variety of guitar effects in their music, but not in the Tom Morello Polytechnic School of X-Wing Fighter Sounds way. Johnson’s guitar sounds more like the Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine side of guitar trickery. Strange, invented guitar tunings are used to achieve unique sounds, and it pays off – many of the more atmospheric songs sound unfamiliar and new. The most direct song here is “Completely.” The song operates with a relatively straightforward guitar riff and a haymaker of a chorus. While it’s not representative of the album’s sound, it might serve as an ideal spot to begin listening and dip your toes into. Infinity Caller is best experienced through any stereo system with the ability to throw down some good bass; bassist Emily Ambruso does a fantastic job grounding the band in its most atmospheric moments. Songs like “Infinity Caller” and “Lion Name” just wouldn’t work without her presence in the mix.
The Brooklyn-based band’s third record is their best to date. Grooms does a good job making unconventional and unusual guitar work sound completely natural. The band’s talents lie in striking the perfect balance of not sounding too produced, but having a full sound; making music that’s atmospheric, but not letting it get away from them; trying things that are new, but not coming across as too unfamiliar. Infinity Caller isn’t the most cohesive of records – while the strong bass lines and the textured guitar are almost always present, there’s not much that these songs have in common. It doesn’t feel scattered, but it feels more or less like a collection of songs written in different periods of the band’s career. There’s something to like on all of these songs, but Grooms is at its best when the music is at its most desperate and frantic. Here’s hoping that next time around, the band will one-up themselves by embracing their dark side.
Listen: “I Think We’re Alone Now”