Monday, November 1, 2010

Grandfather - Why I'd Try - the Album Review

It is a bold move for the band Grandfather. Having grown tired of hearing everyone and anyone with access to a home digital "recording studio" pump out one plastic, tech-manipulated and all too often lifeless collection of songs after another (much to the gushing delight of Pitchfork devotees far and wide), the band chose to go in the opposite direction.

And so it was this past July, when the three members of Grandfather - guitarist Michael Kirsch, drummer/vocalist Josh Hoffman and bassist Jonathan Silverman - sold off all of their home recording equipment and headed to Chicago to make their album "Why I'd Try."

However, it wasn't just any random destination in the windy city they were headed to - but in fact had arranged to record their album at Electrical Audio with the wizard of analog recording himself, engineer Steve Albini.

Steve's legendary accomplishments have been chronicled for the three decades he has now been involved in making recordings (both his own and for other people). Anyone who doesn't know who he is and what he's accomplished already, I suggest you google his name and spend some time finding out. The fact that Grandfather chose to record thier album with him speaks volumes about their own integrity and intelligence.

The opening track, “You’re Strange” merges heavy, near prog-rock-like sound structures against earnest, impassioned vocals. “If it’s all for nothing – none of us win,” is how the lyric goes. Despite this desolate outlook, the response of “I’m all in” indicates a desire to somehow make it all work. With an emphasis more on vocals, lyrics and the storytelling, the track peaks with an explosive instrumental conclusion, leaving the listener wanting more of this part of the song. Perhaps in the live environment?

Yes. This is exactly where these sonic explorations are expanded.

Fortunate to be able to catch the band at a recent live show, the explosive end-out was expanded on - much to this listeners satisfaction.

“Tremors” has a clackety percussive propulsion, while the guitar builds a tension behind more sincere, questioning vocal. “Is the pressure too much, not for nonesuch” is typical of the lyrcial content that frequently presents itself in riddle cadence. A particularly tasty drums and bass rhythmic undercurrent lays the ground for creative guitarwork on top - in particular, some nice rubbery string manipulation.

“AWOL” continues the rumbling, chugging rhythms with guitar lines echoing the vocal melody. A riff driven piece, the lyrics-to-music ratio is better as vocal lines keep it simple, while aggressive guitar textures rise to the front. The only complaint here is, at a mere 2 minutes in length, its all over before it actually gets started. Again, one could picture this stretched out considerably more in the live setting.

"In The Shadow of a Doubt” repeats the vocal refrain “if you go down there, you can’t come back.” Sung softly with simple accompaniment, it then followed by big, bold (bombastic) musical emphasis inbetween these passages. Somewhat dirge-like (in a Black Sabbath way) there are impressive drum rolls providing much needed motion underneath. The guitar then creates a rising sensation up to the songs quick stop ending.

“Caught Off Guard” delivers more slow-moving, vocal emphasis, against deep, thumping drums – interspersed with bursts of aggressive guitar strumming. It all builds up a to passionate vocal wails of “it’s all gone now,” that would not be out of place on, say, a Soundgarden record.

"By Myself" presents an angular progression that quietly changes tempo and brings everything down to feature the vocals and lyrics as the initial point of focus. The drum rhythms and guitar patterns are particularly tasty. "Down to the core - where they want more," is the lament. The wiry, textured guitar work at the center is most welcome indeed. As is the bass guitar and heavy thundering drums that follows.

"It's Good Enough Now" introduces an interesting sonic texture behind the vocals. Sounding almost like a keyboard (though we know none were used on the record) the long, extended notes are not unlike something Robert Fripp might do. Similar to previous song structures on the record, the lyrical tale is presented prior to the band kicking in with the good, heavy stuff. The live drumming in particular sounds quite appealing.

"No One Knows No One" clocks in at a robust over six minutes in length. Leaning on bass guitar to mark out progression and structure, the now familiar straightforward vocals recount an angst filled tale of how, well, no one (really) knows no one (anyone?) The heavy instrumental end out is sublime.

Michael goes for a stage roll in the live scenario.

Gentle guitar plucking, more clackety percussion and doom-heavy bass guitar thudding create a sonic bed for the album closer - "The Outcome."

"How come we're all dying if all we have is living," is the existential question asked. The guitar solo is a brilliant blend of choppy aggression and controlled mayhem.

The band is offering a digital download of this, their debut album - entirely for free at:

You owe it to yourself to grab this baby while you can.

Additionally, Michael Kirsch has written a fascinating 4 part series on the making of this record.

You find all that via this link here:

Enjoying the pure analog listening experience on vinyl


thesunshinefactory said...

Really fascinating plunge into the analog vs Digital argument. It is safe to say this band in particular went for broke. The break down of the album is gratifying and it very much reflects a thorough exploration of a debut album done with one of the great veterans of music, Steve Albini.

ViewFromSpookysDoghouse said...

It reads well, Dave.

DaveCromwell said...

Glad to see you boys can appreciate it.

Indeed, thesunshinefactory - along with putting forward their own songs - the band has also sparked the analog v. digital discussion. If you read Michael's own writings on how they ulimately chose to record with Steve Albini at Electrical (and really, who wouldn't want to make a record with this legend?) - it's fascinating stuff. They had been through all the digial processes - and weren't satisfied. I think this is a brilliant move. I saw them perform live this past Friday night - and they sounded exactly like the record. Just three guys - bass, drums and guitar. Nothing else. How many bands today can say that?

Mr Smork said...

nice writing.
i quiet like that sort of "behind the music" at the beginning (who was record engineer and stuff).
the band itself sounds like a mixture of brit-pop and indy... main singers voice reminds me the killers vocalist's voice. (maybe it's only for me). and, again, maybe it's just for me but this band's music reminds me a bit of "liberteens" and "ramones" music. only this band sounds more grunge... :)
and i hope they have their day jobs. giving their album for free isn't quiet a finance success.... or they have whole year filled with live shows... :)))

DaveCromwell said...

I'm glad you liked the "behind the scenes" stuff, Mr. Smork. I *love* all of that inside info. That's what makes Michael's series on the making of the album is just so fascinating.

Your musical points-of-reference are uniquely your own (as are mine). Its what makes the musical listening experience so personal. I wonder what the band thinks of it? Perhaps I'll find out.

Giving digital downloads away has pretty much become the norm in this day and age. Bands have now figured out how to make money other ways. Certainly live shows are one of them. However, as long as one can make a living at *something* - then really, "record sales" are not really the primary concern. Its a new age now. I like the Albini-Grandfather, etc. philosophy.
Art for Arts sake.
What a concept!

Anonymous said...

Great review

DaveCromwell said...

Thanks, Anouk.

Grandfather said...

Hi, this is Michael, guitarist from Grandfather.

I wanted to clarify that yes, we all continue to work our dayjobs/freelance to survive.

Art for arts sake! We believe that if music is made with honesty and integrity, it will make an impact. We simply did everything in our power to make the best possible record we could.

In terms of the "business model", our one major goal with this album was to build an audience. As a new band, we recognize that our greatest profits are the fans and friends we make. This was behind all of our decisions to give the music away for free, to keep prices low on the physical copies, and to play out as often as possible.

These are not naive decisions. We hope to eventually support ourselves financially making music in the future. We hope to make many more records, and to travel around the world playing shows. We live for playing live! However, we recognize that all of this begins with our audience. Especially today, music is in the hands of the listener more so than ever. Until then, back to my day job...

Thank you for checking out Grandfather, and to Dave for an awesome write up!

DaveCromwell said...

Thanks for coming on to express your thoughts and to clarify a few points, Michael.

And naturally, I'm delighted you are pleased with the review.

Anonymous said...

It's great to see some progressive rock being reviewed here, Dave. As much as I love shoegaze it's still good to have something different around here from time to time.

Progressive rock, yup. The most dangerous music genre there is. One can become a god of music within its borders (like Robert Fripp and his King Crimson) but on the other side this music can easily lead to the over-the-top, nearly theatrical pathetic results (like Dream Theater and their never ending solos). Grandfather seem to be getting it on the right way.

Their natural, nearly jam-session-like sound (Led Zep spirit is around again) is unusual in the "medical" and "perfect" traditions of progressive rocking. I wish they played a little heavier since I'm used to prog rock like Meshuggah, Crimson and Tool has to offer but still, it's a real pleasure to listen to Grandfather. They seem to be completely "out of the fashion" and that's what I like. They do their own thing and they do it good.

One idea, if I can- the band would sound *fantastic* if they tried to create some tracks like Pink Floyd's "Set the controls for the heart of the sun" or Tool's "Disposition"- this kind of trance, ethnic, oriental long compositions. I think Grandfathers can be great at this kind of thing. Hopefully they will try it out some day.

A great and unusual entry, Dave. Thank you!

DaveCromwell said...

Ah, eagle - I always look forward to your thoughtful insights and analysis. I can't really disagree with anything you've written here. Perhaps the band will take to heart some of your suggestions (since we already know they are reading here).

As for me and "prog" - we are never really ever that far away from each other.

Grandfather said...

Hey Eagle,

Thanks for the suggestions. "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun", especially the "Live at Pompeii Version" is one of our favorite Pink Floyd performances, and we are heavily into that style of jamming.

Our live shows are beginning to get more exploratory, so expect a lot more experimentation and improvisation at our shows. We are heavily into the idea of using the songs as springboards to enter some unchartered territory at every show. It keeps things exciting, and makes every show different. The three of us are grounded in improvisational music.

I mentioned this to Dave, that one of my biggest influences is Indian Classical music. I actually spent 6 months living in India studying the Sitar. I lived in 2 different ashrams during my stay, one in Mumbai with Irshad Khan, and one in Jaipur with the Mohan Bhatt family. The sitar will most definitely make an appearance in Grandfather.

Many of our new ideas are both heavier and darker. I'm going to record some demos of new songs and post some 18 minute jams from rehearsal over the next few weeks, so keep checking our website

DaveCromwell said...

I am a total fan of extented improvisational jams. Especially the sonically powerful ones like the Floyd stuff mentioned above. One of my fave Pink Floyd tracks is "One of These Days" from Meddle. Just beautifully brutal. The same for Tangerine Dream's 18 minute "Coldwater Canyon." Some amazing guitar improv on that.

I do recall you telling me about your experiences and studies in India, Michael. Impressive.

I can't wait to hear one of those 18 minute jams you are promisng.

Grandfather said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Grandfather said...


I recorded a Bass and Drums demo of a new song we are working on called "All We Are".

This song was based off of a drum groove that Josh composed on a laptop sequencer using Reaktor, and then taught himself to play on the drum kit. The demos were recorded live at rehearsal on a zoom h4n handheld field recorder.

We are in the process of completing this song and will be performing it live next Saturday at UNION POOL in Williamsburg, Brooklyn

SAT 11/20 : 9PM


This demo was recorded using a zoom h4n

DaveCromwell said...

It's cool. Rattle-y and rhythmic. Still looking forward to the promised 18 minute jam, however.

Grandfather said...

We're really happy about the way we were able to bring everyone into the process of making Why I'd Try, and are going to continue to provide instant access to our music as we write our second record.

Update: I've posted some more soundclips from the writing sessions for new song "All We Are" and another new song that spontaneously came together during a jam today, called "Untitled".

Keep checking our website, as we will continue to update it with demos, sound clips and "18 minute Jams" (we owe you one Dave). You can also follow up at for constant updates.