[27 May 2014]
Veterans of the Detroit music scene, with an EP and LP under their belts, the HandGrenades have displayed an uninterrupted ascent in their songcraft with each successive release. The quality is at its highest on their new effort, the four-song EP 52, a document that shows the HandGrenades’ hallmarks of vocal harmonies, infectious melodies amid raucous guitars remain in place, but they’ve gravitated to a more mature aesthetic. Singer-songwriters Andrew Pawelski and Nick Chevillet adhere to a Lennon-McCartney or Alex Chilton-Chris Bell paradigm, each contributing two tracks. Their lyrical concerns primarily deal with the vicissitudes of romantic ideations, the confliction and destructive qualities that emerge from despoiled concepts of love.
All four songs compete for the distinction of being the best. “A Heart Like Yours” launches the record in stellar fashion, a quintessential opener with drums galloping out in front before waves of guitars crash down. As it progresses, it accelerates to mimic the sensation of driving through city streets, rounding corners at precarious speeds. It establishes the exhilaration that continues throughout the EP, for no matter the specific mood of any given song, an energizing aura encircles each cut. A tweaked version of “Impossible”, more atmospheric than the straight-up rendition released as a single awhile back, captures the emotional oscillation that accompanies a noxious relationship. The verses are plaintive as the tension rises with a jittery rhythm, transitioning to a flurry of drum hits, roiling riffs and sparse synth notes in the refrain. Chevillet sings, “Your love is impossible / And I keep coming back”.
The second half’s “Wish You Cared” and “Wrapped in Plastic” are comparatively more subdued, but that halo of dynamism remains. With the former, repetitive guitar fluttering serves as the foundation, but the lion’s share of the attention is owed to the refrain’s harmonies; Pawelski and crew intoning wistfully, “Is this over now? / Is this over now? / Wish I knew somehow”. The Twin Peaks-referencing “Wrapped in Plastic” is the most distinctive of the tracks, a watery and surreal tone conveyed with spiraling guitar lines and flowing rhythms. The sentiment is almost devotional, having an us-against-the-world theme without being cloying, Chevillet spitting some venom when he sings about how he won’t “lay down to some flashy motherfucker”. There is a dialogue in the musical pattern, as it builds and builds… then drops back to some sinuous drifting, before rising up again more aggressively.
Producer Zach Shipps, formerly of Electric Six, is due a heap of credit for giving the EP its rich, deep texture, every note sounding crisp and the overall sound expansive. In a just world, any one of the songs on 52 could be a radio hit. At the very least, it is but another killer installment in their upward trajectory.