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Great Grandpa - Four of Arrows Music Album Reviews

Great Grandpa - Four of Arrows Music Album Reviews
The indie rock quintet’s second album is more spacious, folksy, and adroit, centering on the evocative voice of lead singer Alex Menne.

Two years ago, Great Grandpa were a different band. The Seattle quintet’s 2017 debut album, Plastic Cough, nestled right into the wave of anxious, quippy rock bands like Charly Bliss, Diet Cig, Dude York, and many more that still roam the indie landscape. But there was something about lead singer Alex Menne’s voice, her clear and emotional delivery on casual lines like “Always killin’ it” that was particularly striking. But when bassist and vocalist Carrie Goodwin and her husband and primary songwriter Pat Goodwin relocated to Milwaukee from Seattle last year, the move left the band in flux while they wrote their second album, Four of Arrows. With 2,000 miles between them, Great Grandpa’s songs became more spacious, folksy, and adroit, losing almost all of the grunge that characterized Plastic Cough. They taped a paper sign on the studio wall that said, “Go slow, big choices.”


On Four of Arrows, the band takes a step back and thrives in more deliberate songwriting. Great Grandpa retain their tweemo sensibilities on songs like the two-chorus single “Mono no Aware,” whose almost-cloying pop-rock sound, lines about pathos, dead birds, and grandma fading from Alzheimer’s like a “lifeless steak in that empty diner” recall the best of Rilo Kiley. They lean into more adventurous arrangements throughout, especially on “English Garden,” a song about dreams and fears on which guitarist Dylan Hanwright plays banjo and piano, and Abby Gunderson is on the violin and cello. (Mellotrons, synths, and harmoniums also make welcome appearances on this record.)

Menne’s vocals—all her many croons and yelps—are truly front and center this time. Songs like the bursting opener “Dark Green Water,” hold the kind of emotional urgency of the best Hop Along songs; Menne’s springy voice carries a similar power and effect as Frances Quinlan's. “Digger,” the record’s tarot-inspired centerpiece, pierces the veil of mannered indie rock when Menne wails, “That’s why I hate you” four times in a row.

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Plastic Cough’s mid-point was a particularly cacophonous track called “Expert Eraser.” But the interlude on Four of Arrows is the piano instrumental “Endling,” composed and played by Pat Goodwin and recorded on the piano from Death Cab For Cutie’s 2003 album, Transatlanticism. The album doesn’t really benefit from this soundscape, except to tie them to their emotional indie-rock forbears, and to make their shift in sound unmistakable. There’s a lot more piano and there’s a lot more death on this record—“Rosalie” and “Split Up The Kids,” both songs penned by Carrie Goodwin, deal with the “relentless regress” of growing old and how she only ever saw her grandparents together at her grandfather’s funeral, respectively.

Four of Arrows’ best songs are ones Menne herself co-wrote, ones that keep the energy up and the ideas simple. On “Treat Jar,” which wouldn’t sound out of place on ‘90s alt radio, Menne sings daggers to the heart: “I can’t help you if I can’t help myself,” and, “Everything is hard this time of year.” And “Bloom,” an ecstatic track about letting your spirit bloom and being “young enough to change” is one of their strongest yet. “I get anxious on the weekends, when I feel I’m wasting time,” Menne croons, “But then I think about Tom Petty and how he wrote his best songs when he was 39.” Time is on their side.


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