PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


GRMLN: Soon Away

On his third release as GRMLN, Yoodoo Park expands and explores pop-punk's roots.


Soon Away

Label: Carpark
US Release Date: 2014-09-16
UK Release Date: 2014-09-22

Though a recording trio and touring quartet as of 2013, GRMLN really refers to guitarist-founder Yoodoo Park. His two albums employ a full lineup frolicking among enough power chords to perform Blink-182's entire discography, but on GRMLN's first release, 2012's Explore EP, the drum machine rocked harder than the record's single living musician: Park's surf-hymn overdubbing and glistening, crisscrossed guitars signified as bedroom-pop for its own sake, which it was. At 17, he recorded experimental sketches for personal driving music; at 19, he released the songs under the name GRMLN, using an asphalt slash through NorCal greenery as cover art and counterpoint to the impish pseudonym.

Not much on Explore prefigured the 23-minute "full-length" that followed in 2013, Empire, which, while concluding with an acoustic come-down, was straight late-90's pop-punk. That is to say, Empire grows in the soil sowed by those snot-nosed tunesters who liked Bad Religion but could neither crack enough dick jokes nor communicate their peculiar alienation in a minute and a half. Pop-punks' own genuine-yet-corporatized pleasure alienates them from pleasurable, autonomous musicianship; as a result, they have never been good at nor do they really desire hardcore's anti-corporate compression. On Empire, Park's verbal content is never exuberantly ribald (he is a child of mid-'00s-indie's sentimental turn), but it is alienated and thus his songs adopt the expanded punk structures Green Day enabled as alienated, pop-addicted post-adolescents.

Now for Soon Away, the songs average a symphonic four minutes. Although Park enlisted his brother and bassist, Tae San, to help structure the songs, the increased labor show not in anything complex or proggy in the songs themselves -- those remain firmly power-pop minimalist. The labor registers because Park composed double-stuff GRMLN without decompression or spacing out. That is to say, the songs are twice as long and equally immune to boredom. Even better than Empire, Soon Away's songs have more identifiers than their hooks, and that without sacrificing hooks. It returns to Empire's cushioned, Merge-chic production, but thinks through more instrumental and structural possibilities than showed up on the previous album, which we can now consider, for all of its recidivist joy, a mere flexing of GRMLN's ternary muscle.

At the level of the song, Soon Away is a success qualified by fairly common qualifiers. When Park says at the beginning of "Crawling Into You", "Your words are minimal, but your thought are endless," I wish it were more reportorial than volitional, but the guitar's shortly attending crunch and swoop shut me up. Over a whole forty minutes, the lack of sustained lyrical interest wearies, excepting a few sentimental refrains: opener "Jaded"'s "Go outside, be the one you want and not for me"; "Faux"'s "I never thought I'd die alone / I never thought I'd be alone with you." Better are the moments of musical-lyrical reciprocation, as when noise blots out Park at the end of "Avoider" while he sings "I can't protect you anymore / I can't avoid it anymore". In its escalation, the noise sounds like a plane taking off; at crescendo, a broken loudspeaker.

Best are those moments of non-lyrical invention, which pop-punk might need more than poetics. The minimal "Numb" demonstrates enough faith in a real live rhythm section that, though sonically just as forthright as ever, the guitar plays only in the background, a treble sweep surrounding Park's voice. Tae San gets the melody here. It swings reluctantly like a heavy pendulum, embedded in the rudimentary rhythm. Sharing "Numb"'s peculiar status as lacking a high-keyed lead line, "Of Nothing" is similarly tireless. Hooks get stuck; these two abjure hummability for momentum, their musemes at the level of the beat. With the other songs' intense riffage, these tiny units of repetition seem cerebral and considered, lacking anthemic, universalist doping. "Of Nothing" is the longest song of GRMLN's existence but never exhausts the verse-chorus/drone-buzz opposition, even when Park, as is his wont, solos above the twelfth fret. In these songs, he's thinking. Catchiness, as we know from Adorno, is a distraction.

So what is he considering, what does it all mean or do? Only after the CD loops back on itself does its larger structure become audible. Opener "Jaded" and closer "Soon Away" share a nearly identical riff, though it gets more submerged in the latter. The choruses reflect each other too: "Go outside, be the one you want" and "I'm turning out the lights in my mind". The pair marks the endless and symmetrical process of leaving and returning, and the mind as an object deeply linked to space. It can be left like a house, and a change in its being attends a change in environs -- going outside. Over ten songs, the riffs sound repetitive, but they signify as repetition. Consider that Yoodoo Park was born in Japan and returns every summer while living in Northern California, and that his previous releases' titles indicate a restless and placeless groping around a center. GRMLN's meditative and melancholic punk works in a historically-contextualized-as if not actually white genre (which is not lost on Park), but Soon Away's alienation is not suburban, it's global-capitalist, which leaves even less hope for resolution. The nature of an empire is that a place is never itself; Soon Away's work identifies certain pleasures to be found in a diaspora -- art can be made placeless if someone who feels placeless empathizes with it. GRMLN refers backward to recontextualize Californian pop-punk alienation as not merely the complaints of middle-class youth, but an expression of total deracination. Musical nostalgia is rarely just sonic; it's necessary for those who never come from, but only leave and come to, over and over.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Is Carl Nevill's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.


Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.


Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".


John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.


The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.


Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.


In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.


Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.


The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.


'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.


1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.


'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.


The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.