Music

Griffin House: The Learner

Laid back to a fault, House delivers a solid, but not spectacular, set of country-rock on his latest album.


Griffin House

The Learner

Label: Evening
US Release Date: 2010-06-22
UK Release Date: Import
Amazon
iTunes

It's hard to write a song about falling for a lesbian without coming off a bit gimmicky. The first single off Griffin House’s latest album, The Learner, is no exception. "She Likes Girls" shares thematic, though not stylistic, ground with Reel Big Fish’s "She Has a Girlfriend Now" and Katy Perry’s "I Kissed a Girl". When House sings, "I like girls, and so does she", it’s done with the same wink-wink, nudge-nudge, aren’t-we-naughty salaciousness that is hard to take seriously. Which is unfortunate, because while the broad strokes of this single may garner House some attention, the song itself does not represent the album particularly well.

A better entry point is "If You Want To", co-written by Semisonic’s Dan Wilson. Like much of the album, the song has a lilting country rock groove that could be a lost Eagles track. House tosses in just enough piano riffs and hand claps to keep things interesting. It is not a bad way to spend a few minutes, but also not a track that demands another listen.

House has been at this for a while. This is his fifth album, and The Learner feels like it was written by someone who is a little too comfortable with where he’s at. There is a lack of urgency throughout. House is a engaging songwriter, but he doesn’t stretch much here. The result is an entire album is filled with good solid songs, but no great ones.

It’s not as if House doesn’t feel any angst. His lyrics return frequently to the theme of yearning for something just beyond his reach -- love, fame, satisfaction. On "Gotta Get Out", House repeats the mantra “Gotta get out of this town before it’s too late”. He is a man running out of time to follow his dreams, but while the song itself is catchy, it is also a bit slack, betraying the lyrical sentiment. The mood should be one of intense desperation, but instead the music lends the impression that, while getting out of town is a priority, House might take a nap first.

On other songs, House’s easy-going vibe fits perfectly. "River City Lights" is a gorgeous meditation on love, with Alison Krauss’s vocals providing a perfect complement to House. It meanders along like most of the songs, but that’s just fine when you're singing about watching the river roll by with a girl you love. Another standout, and one of the album's few surprises, is "Feels So Right". With its driving drum beat and falsettos stretching House’s vocals in interesting and satisfying directions, it is less restrained than the rest of the set. It embodies the spontaneity of a tune whipped off in one take in the studio as a lark. But it also is filled with the joy of getting that take perfect on the first try.

House's fans will likely enjoy The Learner, and it may attract some new listeners looking for low-key roots rock. But at the same time, much of the album leaves you wanting House to dig deeper and translate the desire in his lyrics into the songs themselves.

6

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image