There is a strain of childishness running through Grooms’ music. Or at least adolescence; their biggest song to date is called “Prom”, after all. Whether it be singsong melodies or nostalgic hooks, a kind of youth fixation pervades Infinity Caller, the third and latest Grooms album.
Infinity Caller, in a bit of musical defiance, dares you to reminisce as you listen. Some songs come with titles that are pre-existing (“I Think We’re Alone Now”, the album’s first single), while nearly every track has an element that’s dangerously similar to some tune from your musical adolescence that you can’t quite put your finger on. Luckily, Infinity Caller also has a lot of aplomb. The energy emanating from the speakers as opener “Lion Name” folds into its follow-up, “I Think We’re Alone Now”, creates a sugar high that crashes in line with the more serene “Sleep Detective” and “Iskra Goodbye”. The latter, sung in girly tones by bassist Emily Ambruso, has potential to grate, but thankfully here Ambruso’s vocals fit right in with the album’s youthful motifs.
Song titles like “Play” and “Susie Jo” uphold their singsong connotations. Singer Travis Johnson has a limited range, but he manages to make moments like the “I miss everyone” refrain of the latter sound decently in-character. “Something I Learned Today” recounts a lesson–don’t stare into the sun–both well-known among young ones and the neo-shoegaze contingent Grooms is sometimes lumped in with. Even “Very Very Librarian”, Infinity Caller’s most clearly interpretable song, comes across as more of an ode to a crush than an expression of adult love. It’s also the song that most threatens to coast into lyrical cheesiness, but another chorus whose earworminess outweighs its derivation and saves it.
Grooms’ musical dexterity, as well as this innocent spin, work together in setting these songs apart from so many ho-hum indie rock releases. A song like “Play” can draw from the ‘90s indie well without pulling up an overflowing bucket; a well-mannered feat. The minor glam motifs of “Completely” even make Infinity Caller feel somewhat adventurous. How many bands tagged with the “neo-shoegaze” or potentially bogus “noise pop” label sound this unabashed?
What all these youthful motifs add up to is hard to ascertain. The album’s press release gives mention of lead singer Travis Johnson being newly sober; perhaps all the innocence of Infinity Caller has something to do with looking at the world anew after a bottoming out. If this is potentially the case, then something can certainly be said for Infinity Caller as a novel approach to the recovery album. If not, then its many hooks and blissful moments like the outro to “Sometimes Sometimes” mark it as a successful distorto-pop release. Grooms were famously recruited by Our Band Could Be Your Life author Michael Azerrad to perform as Husker Du at a gig inspired by his book. Infinity Caller proves that Grooms have the potential to craft hooks powerful enough to stand on their own. They just have a little growing up to do.