Grumsling is part of a new trend of musical and multimedia “collectives” which define themselves as this rather than with the apparently constrictive label of “band.” The collective’s intention, it would seem, is to collaborate not only on music, but on visual art as well, and even to create a narrative. Grumsling is not only the name of the project, but of a mythical character the collaborators have introduced along with their first two EPs, which have been released simultaneously.
The music on Full Coverage and A Church, on a Boat, in the Sea is most definitely indicative of having lots of different contributors with its fluid and, at times, schizophrenic mash-up of genres and styles. This is not to say the group does not have a well-defined structure to their music and visual art, and to the narrative of the Grumsling character. Posed as a sort of modern trickster-god like Hermes or Loki, the Grumsling is, like the group’s music and lyrics, fluid and dichotomous. He is both mischievous and informative; both a wanderer and a teacher. On the visual arts end of things, the group has conscripted the help of famed comic book artist David Lafuente to create the character’s visual persona, with a possible graphic novel in the works.
In the meantime, the band’s permanent members, guitarist and vocalist Carl Flynn, keyboardist/synth man D.J. Lowe, bassist Matt Lowe and drummer Dominic Rodriguez are largely using music and their lyric videos to tell the Grumsling’s story. With a heavy jazz, reggae and funk influence, there is a somewhat unidentifiable indie vein to Grumsling’s music, as well as a lot of improvisation. Jazz fans will hear Miles Davis while indie and reggae fans might hear hints of 311 or even psychedelic classic rock.
These core styles, in the minds of the group’s musicians, can always be enhanced by other styles. Out of these structures can suddenly appear some iffy rap, wall of sound shoegaze style with grungy guitars, fusion jazz, electronica and unexpected vocal harmonies. With all these styles, it would seem that things might get a little too fluid and loose. Though the composition process probably looks like a brainstorm initially, all the members seem to be able to hold on and create skeletal structures for each piece around which the other elements can orbit – even the improvisation.
The lead track off of Full Coverage is called Whiskey and has a structure which, compared to some other tracks, is easy to follow. With a reggae base, this track might remind some listeners of early Gorillaz work. In fact, the way Grumsling is headed resembles Gorillaz in a lot of ways, with its multimedia running narrative and cartoonish yet melancholic character developing along with the music. Whiskey introduces the hedonistic part of the character; part gutter punk and part sad artist. The intention of the lyric videos in this series seems to be to highlight the stories in each song by making the listener pay attention to the lyrics, and Whiskey does just that.
The Game, a track off the second EP, A Church, on a Boat, in the Sea, is more indicative of Grumsling’s multi-styled and improvisational leanings. Very improv/fusion jazz at the beginning, the song then moves to shoegaze harmonies and grungy guitars. This track, thus, starts out sounding like a Phish song but ends up more Pearl Jam. This may seem contradictory, but these musicians manage to pull it off effortlessly.
There is no lyric video for The Game yet, but it looks like Grumsling plans to make one for each song, so it is probably forthcoming. Each lyric video is only available on Youtube and the group’s website for a limited time, so Whiskey has already been replaced with a new video. There are also teaser videos featuring the Grumsling character to whet fans’ appetites for more of this mythical character’s story.
Musically, despite the group’s best attempts, these twin debut albums do get a little stale after repeated listens. Grumsling may have their formula a little too dialed-in already, but it is hard to imagine it will stay that way for long. With so many different media and so many collaborators being brought in to work on this project, it is certain that more and more elements will be introduced, both to bring the Grumsling character to life and to keep the music and the story changing. It will be interesting to see what comes to the surface from this group’s very diverse sources, styles and media as this collective produces more releases.
Review by Layla Klamt
Youtube.com – “Grumsling – Downtime”
Grumsling.com – Home
Images courtesy of Grumsling press kit.