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Garcia Peoples - Natural Facts Music Album Reviews

The second album from these New Jersey-based Grateful Dead devotees is still indebted to familiar reference points, but finds the band pushing to expand.

You won’t get far with New Jersey quartet Garcia Peoples before noticing the unambiguous Grateful Dead associations. For a lot of bands, Grateful Dead worship stops at a reverent cover or a t-shirt design; Garcia Peoples commit. This begins with the band’s name (inspired by just being really, really into the Dead) and continues in slippery guitar leads, dusty vocal harmonies, and elongated song suites connected by untethered jams. On their 2018 debut Cosmic Cash, they looked not just to Jerry and co. but to a range of psychedelic masters: high-energy shredding channeled a lineage of nerdy technicality from Zappa to NRBQ to Phish, while gentler moments hinted at time spent studying private-press acid-folk records. The influences could be glaring at times, but substantial songwriting and a sense of giddy euphoria helped the album to transcend.

Arriving just seven months later, second album Natural Facts is still indebted to familiar reference points, but finds the band pushing to expand. The tandem guitar work of founding members Danny Arakaki and Tom Malach guides most songs, providing as much narration as their woozy vocal harmonies. Daydreamy and swaying, “High Noon Violence” constructs an intricate patchwork of acoustic and overdriven guitar tones before liquefying into a puddle of wailing dual leads. “Weathered Mountains” taps into the noodly pseudo-prog of the Dead’s studio output circa Blues for Allah, transposing that energy to a higher pitch and reimagining glassy-eyed Weir/Garcia lead lines as played by Television. Though it’s impressive to hear a young group fly so close to their key inspirations, some moments verge on psychedelic cosplay, teetering between devout admiration for iconic jam bands and too many hours spent comparing audience recordings of the 9/19/70 “Dark Star.”

As they move away from one-dimensionality, Garcia Peoples trace a line between ’60s West Coast psych and Jersey indie roots. Natural Facts explores this intersection, volleying between considered songwriting and ideas that sound born of all-night jam sessions. The lazy amble of “Rolling Tides” draws on meandering guitar figures, but tucks them into the background of a less elaborate structure. As the song moves through traditional soft verses and loud choruses, Arakaki’s sheepish vocals sound descended from the warm mumble of Yo La Tengo’s Ira Caplan. Garcia Peoples’ less jammy material can be as straightforward as the bounding feel-good melodicism of “Break Me Down” or as jagged as the thunderous, off-time riffing of album opener “Feel So Great.” Where the breezy Cosmic Cash found Garcia Peoples on a stoned countryside drive, here they sound trapped in stop-start city gridlock. Engineer Jeff Zeigler’s modernized production amplifies the contrast, with sharper mixes and enormous drums adding newfound nerviness even to even the most subdued tracks.

When the blissed-out perma-grin gives way to frustration, Natural Facts takes on more depth. “Patient World” slogs through themes of stress and defeat, but its smoky grunge vibe feels confrontational by comparison to other songs’ contented drift. When the band ventures into this less comfortable territory, they display an individuality sometimes buried beneath the tripped-out reverie. Already in possession of telekinetic players and a distinctive fusion of indie-rock hooks and jam-band dexterity, Garcia Peoples grow more intriguing as they step out of the shadows of their inspirations.

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