The Growlers have built a vast musical catalogue since their inception a decade ago. Four albums, a smattering of EPs and the coining of a festival has meant the band are constantly working – you can stuff your Jack Whites and Damon Albarns, this group have slaved away into the dirt and had the energy to dig themselves out again.
‘Beach Goth’ was not only a genre that moulded around the group but similarly a festival that they began – hosting names as esteemed as Bon Iver, James Blake and Grimes. As they return in 2016, following up on their successful 2014 release, Chinese Fountain, the group have signed to Julian Casablancas’ Cult Records. Not only have they signed to his label but The Strokes frontman has taken production duties onboard too. Chinese Fountain paved a path into a wider audience for the group, it bled as much scuzz-rock as it did reggae, country and Americana; new genres are good to expand with and City Club stretches further and further too.
City Club weighs in as one of the group’s longer efforts; the songs are longer and stand in a sturdy list of thirteen. ‘City Club’, the opening track and title track begins with purpose – it has dense slices of funk that cut through in the bass, tinkering guitar lines gleefully smile upwards whilst Brooks Nielsen’s unique voice sings with as much anguish as it always did. It is Brooks’ voice that really sells the sentiment in the song as he croons: “I love her just the way she is.”
‘I’ll Be Around’ begins with as much force as its predecessor; it is here that Casablanca’s techniques work perfectly for the group – where the bass may have previously struggled within the raucous scuzz slacker-rock, it now stands firmly in the foreground. The chorus carries a football fan chant-come-conversation between the rest of the group and Nielsen; it kind of has that De La Soul, early hip-hop vibe about it which leads for something marvellously catchy.
Breaking away from the garage-rock hype that currently occupies contemporary music is a brave move for The Growlers but ‘Vacant Lot’, with its slightly post-punk, Gang Of Four shadow and the seedy-neon groove of ‘Night Ride’ emphasises what a good decision it was. As Nielsen sings in the background of ‘Night Ride’ – “Now you see there never was a point,” it feels as if he agrees with the step forward too.
‘Dope On A Rope’ makes lyrical lightness of what may be perceived as addiction. As a title it continues to play on the uncanny sinister feel of City Club, an album that, as you venture further into, begins to reveal its darker underbelly. As a song it carries a more assertive tempo than the opening fragment of the album, Brooks’ voice carries more of a glide than the previous stoned lull as he murmurs upon 80s synth tones. ‘When You Were Made’ is the spine of the album and slows affairs with twiddling guitar finding closer sentiment to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young than anything else. ‘Rubber & Bone’ introduces the first wedge of thick fuzz that we hear from the group so far, it introduces those chanting conversations once more between Brooks and the group yelling: “It could happen to you / You will do”, to one another.
As we begin to flirt with City Club’s tail end, the album doesn’t lose strength and purpose, it continues down the sordid 80s glitter path, picking at the coke-fuelled alleys of Manhattan with slight glam-rock influences. ‘The Daisy Chain’ links tacky haunted house keys with 60s garage-psych choruses and a bizarre classic-rock sounding guitar solo. ‘World Unglued’ is a woozy comedown affair that melts as it hits you with lullaby vocals and the scuzz of ‘Neverending Line’ shows that the sink-or-swim-end-of-the-album is well and truly afloat in this case. ‘Too Many Times’ reverts slightly to The Growlers’ garage-rock root with a particularly heavy lo-fi effect on Nielsen’s voice – the updating of production courtesy of Casablancas means that the music behind the voice keeps its crispness and vitality – the contrast is astonishing and works perfectly. ‘Blood Of A Mutt’ – despite the violent title – is a melodic jam that meanders and oozes, the strength is in the rhythm section and is sure to be a lighters-out-waving-slowly-in-the-crowd moment.
As we close on the big band sound of ‘Speed Living’, it is startlingly clear that The Growlers have hit back with quite the arduous statement on City Club. Anybody who may have questioned Casablancas’ control at the realm has been proved unconditionally wrong. It is not only the production that moves with a neon-shimmer-grace but similarly the seedy, funk angle that the group have moved towards is something so refreshing to hear. With a touch more production, Nielsen’s gravely croon keeps its cigarette charred presence but stands on a polished background – the juxtaposition suits the group and suits their new sound.