The Growlers released their new album City Club at the end of September, unleashing to the world their first project under Julian Casablancas’ Cult Records label. The band recruited Casablancas as a producer, but the lead singer of The Strokes was also called upon to lay some vocals on a couple of tracks on the album, and fans will be quick to point out that his influence is quite evident throughout City Club, for better or worse in the eyes of many listeners. The other big difference in the making of this new Growlers album came in a one-two punch including a personnel change that saw the departure of drummer Scott Montoya, and the album was, for the first time, credited to Brooks Nielsen and Matt Taylor as opposed to the whole band/The Growlers. These dynamic changes are definitely a factor in the direction taken with this album, though I will gladly place myself on the side that sees it favorably.
The Growlers are best known for their “Beach Goth” sound, spearheaded by lead singer Nielsen’s monotone vocals weaved into dark, psychedelic surf Rock compositions. For those expecting to hear a continuation of that sound, this album will not deliver on that so it’s understandable why there may be some detractors. But if you truly listen to this album and appreciate it for what it is and what it’s attempting to accomplish, as opposed to how it came about or what previous Growlers albums sound like, you’d find the new direction is hardly a faulty one. The Growlers went New Wave with a touch of Disco, and it’s fucking cool. So after a week of listening to the record in a variety of settings and under different circumstances, I’ve picked out the 5 songs that stand out the most to make City Club a must-hear album for Fall 2016. This wasn’t an easy task and if I had to write this post again tomorrow, my list could be totally different. Look below to find our picks and hit the comments section to list yours.
Stream City Club
The opening and title track leads the way not only for the listening experience you’re about to embark on as you push play to hear the new album, but it also establishes the new sound of The Growlers. The 80s-tinged track boasts intertwining jangly guitars and a rhythm section that’ll make you sway, and the chorus sounds like it took a page right out of The Strokes’ book, right down to the gravelly vocals and the very pronounced guitar strumming. While their earlier material painted the picture of late night hangouts fueled by cheap beer in a barely lit beach on the West Coast, this new material sounds more like they’ve ditched those friends to run with a crowd that prefers dancing through the glitzy nightlife scene and down cocktails like water along the way.
“I’ll Be Around”
This is probably my favorite song on the album, though it may be perhaps the track that most clearly disregards the band’s signature sound. The accentuated drums are a real force to be reckoned with and when it’s paired with that imposing bass line, even the most uncoordinated and beat-less dancers will be overtaken enough by the rhythms to inspire some groovy hip shaking. After careful listening sessions, there’s no convincing me otherwise that this isn’t practically a Cumbia, especially in the last section with a synth part that sounds like a decent accordion solo. With that said, I fully hope/expect for there to be some sort of Celso Piña remix coming our way at some point. The music has got sensual undertones too, like you’d expect to hear from any good Latin danceclub song, which puts the icing on the cake that is this pseudo-tropical jam.
“The Daisy Chain”
This one sounds like a bright and fun tune, reminiscent of Motown’s hit-making heyday, but with the lyrical darkness of a Lou Reed/Velvet Underground song. The rhythm will make you bop side to side and snap your fingers, and that infectious synth is as good as anything that would be a major hit on The Ed Sullivan Show back in the day. The lyrics are a stark counterpart, as Brooks sings about conflicting feelings about fame and being a star that moves from place to place to play before a “dead sea of blank eyes.”
The outro includes one of the most moving introspective looks into the mind of the song’s protagonist:
Lonely rock stars opening up about holding in feelings to play the part of heroic/unattainable figures and perpetuating this idea that their fans have of them. It gets me every time.
“Too Many Times”
This song snuck its way into the Top 5 at the very end. This New Wave/Post-Punk concoction also happens to be one of the few tracks that features Julian Casablancas on vocals, who performs the second verse. The cool part of this appearance is seeing how Nielsen’s and Casablancas’ voices can be so similar to one another that if you don’t listen intently, you may not catch that Brooks hopped back on the mic for the final chorus that kicks in right at the end of JC’s part. The lyrics about being locked in jail and passing down advice about steering clear of the path that led the singers there also kind of creates this idea of Nielsen and Casablancas belonging to a brotherhood filled with members with dark pasts, standing side by side as they look out to greener pastures. The defining riff on this song also hooks you right in from the second you hear it.
“Blood Of A Mutt”
This could arguably be the best song on City Club. This dirty Blues number is filled with sorrow both sonically and lyrically, and it beckons the eerie mood of The Animals’ “House Of The Rising Sun.” This one is also propelled to greater heights by it’s scuzzy guitar solo that dances so sadly and elegantly with the beat, the only true classic solo on the album. There’s also an outro solo that further completes the throwback appeal of the track, which guides you into the abyss.
The lyrics are also quite heavy. There are so many to pick from that perfectly sum up downtrodden and lovelorn emotions, which can serve as an anthem for people in a state of despair. Some of my favorites include the chorus (which I’ve sung in the car at full volume an obscene amount of times):
And then there’s the final verse, which I’ve felt too often in my life:
With my heart in my pocket
Both feet on the gas
Failure as my guide
Memories made of ash
Age by my side
So I’m never alone
Add my years to my tab
But leave me enough for the road