The Growlers grow up - sort of - with Chinese Fountain
Nobody really sounds like The Growlers. Whether it’s more like Lee Hazelwood tripping out on the beach, a modern day, kind of country sounding Doors, or maybe even what The Black Lips might sound like if they chilled the fuck out for a bit, it’s pretty unique.
The five-piece almost transcend the idea of musical genres, subsequently penning the term “beach goth” to describe their vastly unique brand of music. Sunburned, salty and sandy, the term does what no other established musical genre does by aptly describing their distinctive brand of boozy reverb-heavy, surfy, country swagger into something more succinct and digestible. The band are ever prolific, putting out consistently good material at a similar breakneck speed as fellow Californian garage psych-rocker Ty Segall, having put out four LPs, five EPs, a couple of 7" singles and countless demos since 2008. They’ve promised a “more grown up, well-polished” effort for their fifth LP, and at first glance, that seems to be just what they’ve delivered with Chinese Fountain.
Recorded quickly in a week-and-a-half in downtown LA, in terms of production Chinese Fountain sees a little bit of a departure from the lo-fi sounds that permeated the earlier releases in favour of some cleaner, more polished tones. And with hardly a key or tempo change in sight, the album also seems to embody a musical shift from their trippy, honkytonk dissonance towards a straighter, more conventional style of indie rock. While this is salient on “Good Advice” and “Not the Man”, the change in style is most evident on the album’s title track. Booming lead synths echo over a fast-paced 16th drum beat as guitarist Matt Taylor channels his inner Nile Rodgers, giving the tune a peculiar disco or 80s new wave feel as a result.
But for all the differences, most of the classic Growlers idiosyncrasies remain. Wild country-style bass lines, syncopated, surfy guitar and Latin drumming are again all tied together by vocalist Brooks Nielsen, crooning along with such conviction that he sounds like he’s playing the part of a wise, heartbroken old man reflecting poignantly on experiences past. “Where are you going? / Come back with my heart”, he sings on “Black Memories”, establishing a lyrical theme of sadness and despair that continues down the tracklist with the similarly despondent “Going Gets Tuff” and “Magnificent Sadness”.
But Chinese Fountain is certainly not all doom and gloom. Album opener “Big Toe” has all the makings an uplifting indie hit, while “Dull Boy” is anything but what the title suggests. A classic Growlers song, the album’s centrepiece tune displays all the groovy, psychedelic twang that has given the band such a cult following, but strangely also without sounding too much like anything else they’ve done before.
As an enormous fan of The Growlers’ previous work, I’m slightly disappointed with Chinese Fountain and left with almost a sentimental or bittersweet feeling after listening to it a few times. But while they have veritably adopted a different approach and direction for their latest release, thankfully they haven’t altogether ditched the loveable, jangly charm that made them oh-so-appealing in the first place. Both danceable and relaxing at the same time, the album (like the band as a whole) carries some distinctly summer vibes but will undoubtedly provide listeners with fantastic listening material for years to come, regardless of the season.