The great American indie rock band… a term more commonly embezzled that effectively embodied, that’s for sure. Thankfully, this is not the case for Grand Archives. The Seattle project—which consists of accomplished local musicians Mat Brooke (Band of Horses, Carissa’s Wierd ), Curtis Hall, Jeff Montano, and Thomas Wright—delivers an effortless ten-track album cunningly titled Keep in Mind Frankenstein.
The record follows their 2008 self-titled debut that, in spite of the superfluous media frenzy that preceded its release, managed to surpass even the most probing of expectations. This time, having purposely discarded the material they had prepared for their sophomore effort in advance, the band was forced to create Keep in Mind Frankenstein on the spot. Almost every song was crafted within the studio walls (Paradise Sound Studios in Index, Washington, to be precise); a fact that perhaps explains the astonishing consistency of the album.
“Topsy’s Revenge”, the opening track, inadvertently sets the tone and pace for most of the album: nostalgic, dark, occasionally hopeful, and downright emotional. Through brilliant images, the song successfully captures the essence of Thomas Edison’s short documentary Electrocuting an Elephant (the filmed execution of Topsy, a wild Circus elephant from Coney Island).
Next up is “Witchy Park - Tomorrow Will (Take Care of Itself)”, undoubtedly the most intricate song out of the ten. During six-and-a-half minutes, the track flawlessly morphs over and over again, resolute. At first, multiple vocals describe a delicate melody until the instrumentation maxes out onto the zenith (a familiar movement that takes us back to their characteristic debut). Finally, the elements engaged throughout come together for one hell of an ending.
The pace picks up a little with “Silver Among the Gold”, a more obvious recollection of their last studio effort. The chorus of this little number is simply luminous, and the track categorically showcases the band’s balanced folk/pop arrangements. “Oslo Novelist” then offers a new, mellower tempo that will mark Keep in Mind Frankenstein from here on out.
“Lazy Bones” and “Siren Echo Valley (Part 1)” both show off warmly textured vocals that come to engage contributions by every member of the band. These delicate, melodic exhibitions are reinforced as one of foremost strengths of Grand Archives, albeit the departure of Ron Lewis (The Shins) had most skeptics worried that the band wouldn’t be able to pull off some of these arrangements without him. The latter song also features a guest appearance from Sera Cahoone (Carissa’s Wierd), a perfect addition that makes the song truly memorable.
Near the end of the album, “Left for All the Strays” and “Dig That Crazy Grave” successfully explore a more southern vibe that really works with the band’s folksy instrumentation. “Left for All the Strays” showcases Brooke’s smooth voice, surrounding its warm effects with tender guitars and a seemingly indispensable harmonica. It is also easy to see why “Dig That Crazy Grave” was the only song to survive the pre-recording slaughter that left the band with a clean slate for Keep in Mind Frankenstein. The beautiful melodies that populate this track are taken a step further as a result of the band’s careful handling.
You wouldn’t expect it, but Grand Archives rounds off the album with an instrumental track that resembles a haunted-house waltz (“Siren Echo Valley (Part 2)”), before ending it on a high note with “Willoughby”. The closing track combines thoughtful, Sigur Ros-like arrangements with Grand Archive’s vocal style staples.
So what’s the downside? Technically, it may seem that there is none, but Grand Archives’ Keep in Mind Frankenstein is like a warm, home-cooked meal: it’ll satisfy demanding palates, but, for all intents and purposes, it will not rock the fibers of international cuisine. Their second album experiments from time to time and carries a sort of spontaneous energy, but for the most part the band stays neatly tucked inside their comfort zone.
So maybe it´s not genius—nevertheless, Keep in Mind Frankenstein is free of pretensions and full of simple, honest musicality.
// Notes from the Road
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