Intermittent previews via The Growlers’ instagram (@losgrowlers) hinted at what their recently released Chinese Fountain might sound like, but nothing could quite prepare me for what I heard on that faithful day of September 23, 2014…
Granted bands should strive to evolve through their albums, The Growlers had something good going for them in their previous works such as Are You In Or Out? (2009) and Gilded Pleasures (2013); and by good, I mean goddamn genius. Between their brilliant instrumental solos, saucy south-of-the-border twang, and lead singer, Brooks Nielsen’s gravelly and almost worn out voice, I think I will forever be overwhelmed with feelings of pleasure and adoration each and every time I listen to The Growlers.
However, this new record had me thinking a little differently.
Upon my first listen, I was in total confusion. Where did that beloved twang go? What happened to the long instrumental solos? Rather than swooning all over this new record like the fan girl I secretly am, I found myself quietly sitting down to fully analyze what was happening in this unfamiliar musical dimension; I could feel it trying so desperately to lift me up and take me for a ride down its finest avenues, but it was just not happening. At around minute 19:45 however, “Magnificent Sadness” began and my face slowly creased into a wrinkled smile. Two-thirds of the way into the song the beat picked up, a terrific guitar piece emerged, and my faith had been restored. I listened to the record several more times, gradually realizing what The Growlers had done.
More polished than their earlier stuff, Chinese Fountain is tidy. No longer reminiscent of the 1950’s rockabilly sound that the band used so well, this album pursues a more 1980’s post-punk feel, while still maintaining the band’s southern Californian roots. (For the daydreamers out there: think the Cure post three tons of spiked Sunny Delight, with faded Chuck Taylors and inside-out shirts to match.) Tracks like “Good Advice” and “Not The Man” can attest to the band’s latest vibe, as their streamlined compositions and clever lyrics make for a fuzzy, purple jam session in which I cannot help but bob my head, if nothing else. In other words, these new songs certainly deliver on the dancing front, and as for the lyrics, let us just say we are getting all our fruits and veggies in with that one too.
Brooks Nielsen and the rest of the boys are a talented group of lyricists. In the song “Going Gets Tough,” Nielsen sings “Worry’s a bully/That just won’t let me be/…Still always remembering/When the going gets tough/That the labor of our love/Will reward us soon enough,” (Nielsen you charming devil.) Likewise, the gang has wits that might very well stop you in your tracks. In the album’s namesake song, “Chinese Fountain,” the words allude to the world today: “Is techno so shitty, even disco seems punk/Like the water so filthy, it’s no wonder why we’re drunk/Every little kid wants a computer in his pocket/The trophies on the mantels of the digital profits/The internet is bigger than Jesus and John Lennon/And nobody wants to know where we’re heading.” Dismal? Slightly. Danceable? Totally.
While it was a sure surprise, Chinese Fountain has definitely got some spunk. And although I will always revere the low-fi mama that bore the band, I completely support how The Growlers are exploring other sounds and am eager to hear what else they throw at us.
Check out the full album below:
Rowan Walton / The First Bite of a Doughnut / Promotions Director