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Growler’s new album reminisces about ’80s Los Angeles glamour

By Ben Benson

Section: Arts

October 7, 2016

Whereas previous albums by the Growlers rang with the twangs of 1970s California psychedelia, “City Club’s” title track opens the album with a funky jam evocative of 1980s Los Angeles. While the album still has the Orange County band’s trademark faded psych rock aesthetic, there is an added layer of ’80s-style synth that expands the Growler’s genre appeals, first heard on the band’s previous album, “Chinese Fountain.” The band has traded their oft-used “Beach Goth” label for “L.A. Noir.”

While the change of pace for the band is welcome, one can’t help wonder if the sound adopted by “City Club” owes much to the likes of the Black Keys or the Arcade Fire in its rock elements. Likewise, the synthesizers liken this album to many pop artists who have lately favored the retro sound. The vocals on “Dope on a Rope” almost sound like Daft Punk, yet retain the drugged-out signature of the Growlers’ Brooks Nielsen.

Despite the slick city synths, the twangy guitar signature to the band’s sound is still featured heavily on this album. A new addition is a more hard rock-influenced guitar modulation that also evokes the ’80s sound the Growlers seem to have sought for with this project. The filtered guitar sound along with the synths gives “City Club” a haunting quality, one that is more reminiscent of urban isolation than a ghost town, the latter of which was showcased in their previous records.

Vocally, there isn’t a lot of development on this album, though that is not necessarily a bad thing. Nielsen’s vocals are still filtered to give them an old, faded quality, as seen on the Growlers’ previous records. While this sound meshed well with the high desert sound of their previous projects, these vocals seem somewhat out of place in a record that swings more toward synth-pop rock. That said, the sound isn’t unappealing, but simply unorthodox.

Thematically, the album seems to be a chronicle of loneliness and heartbreak in Los Angeles. It is a dark, melancholy sound, yet the feeling that the album provokes is one that should be familiar to many—the feeling of being a small fish in a very large pond. The album isn’t all sadnes. Many of the songs, while dark, feature upbeat riffs that ensure that the album doesn’t pass the threshold to being purely depressing. “Daisy Chain” remains upbeat on a surface level, making the album thoroughly enjoyable to listen to, especially considering the lyrical subject matter. To be fair, there are an equal number of songs with a darker sound, which serve to balance out the emotional resonance of the album.

The album art depicts a wide range of individuals coming and going in front of a seedy southern California nightclub at dusk. This is a change from previous Growlers album covers, which were largely personless. The addition of people to the image marks the change in the Growlers’ music from desolate desert imagery to crowded urban isolation. The band is clearly beginning to explore a much different aspect of their southern California roots. With “City Club,” the Growlers have left the beach and moved back to the city. Whether they’ll stay there remains to be seen.

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