FatCat’s long-awaited UK and European release of the 3rd official album by Costa Mesa five-piece The Growlers is a triumphant revelation to be celebrated, a darkly romantic folk/surf/psych odyssey featuring previously well-loved rough cuts from their 2012 Beach Goth demos cassette honed to perfection.
I knew instantly on first listen that Hung At Heart was a breakthrough for the band – a ship in a bottle that, on first inspection, didn’t seem likely to fit together, but when lingered on, revealed the remarkably skillful way the sails attached to the hull with beautifully delicate strings and hinges…
The Growlers deftly balance a great amalgamation of styles with a rich warmth and harmonious precision, without adding unnecessary weight or heavy handedness, and the result is a spectacular album of rare poignancy showcasing their stellar song craft.
For this reason I am glad they ultimately turned down the assistance of The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach in the studio and opted to self-produce.
Singer Brooks Nielsen’s reverb-filtered, world-weary and whiskey soaked drawl give the songs a haunting, ageless nostalgia; the guitars have the glassy swagger of a 1960’s teen beach party flick, the oscillating organ runs lend an eerie carnival atmosphere (most notably on “Salt on a Slug” and “It’s No Use”), and Scott Montoya’s drums are a bizarre and ghostly African skiffle that somehow brilliantly unite the whole elaborate sound together.
Hung At Heart appeals to the loner in me and feels like a road trip soundtrack for a restless romantic drifter, informed by the wisdom of experience and personal hardship.
There’s a bittersweet melancholia to it’s many tales of love gone awry – opener “Someday” is a wistful, swoony jangle about the push and pull of financial woes which spoil relationships (“Well, things ain’t so cool right now/Well, I promise they’ll get better”). “Naked Kids” is a plea for reconciliation and forgiveness, and in “Burden of the Captain”, Nielsen sorrowfully reflects, “How did it turn into more drinking, sinking, when all that I ever wanted was less thinking, all that I ever wanted was left stinking?”
This is why I don’t really get The Beach Boys references that have been excitedly tossed around in the press for the album or the claims that it is a ‘bright’ and ‘laid back’ listen, apart from the way Hung At Heart seems almost overstuffed with supremely memorable songs and hooky melodies. To me, Hung At Heart sounds most similar in spirit to fellow Costa Mesans The Abigails (fronted by ex-Growler Warren Thomas), perhaps with shades of Tijuana Panthers and Black Lips.
It’s almost impossible to pick standalone favourites from an album of such impressive consistency, but recommended tracks include “One Million Lovers”, which is perhaps Hung At Heart’s strongest moment, with it’s fluttery organ intro, infectiously bouncy bassline, and rubbery, resonant guitar tone, “Pet Shop Eyes”, which has a vintage, almost kitschy 1960’s feel updated with warbly synths and a dusty, loping guitar riff, and “Living In a Memory”, a gloomy, acoustic-based waltz about lost love (“Your face is clogging up my dreams/Smiling so god damned tenderly”).
While there’s no danger of The Growlers taking themselves too seriously (go see them and pick up some ‘I’m Swervin’ Cuz I’m Pervin’!’ bumper stickers or – my personal favourite – a huge four inch ‘I Hate Everybody’ button to decorate your jacket), they have proved themselves a surprisingly accomplished band among the current crop of psych/surf acts worth keeping a very attentive eye on.
All words by Carrie Quartly, you can read more of her writing on the site here.