In his 2006 book Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity, the singular filmmaker David Lynch memorably referred to depression and anger as the “Suffocating Rubber Clown Suit of Negativity”. How Lynch chose to describe the anxieties that plagued him before finding meditation probably gives just as much, if not more, insight into how Lynch reads the world around him than the fact that he chose meditation as a way to cope with it. Humor can be used to defer or deflect, but it can also be a way to disarm; to relieve the darker corners with lightheartedness. When Grounders singer/guitarist Andrew Davis became interested in meditation, he brought a couple of books along on tour to pass among his bandmates: Lynch’s book, and Meditation for Dummies. Those two selections, in a similar way, might provide a bit of insight into the Toronto band’s perspective.
For an album that doesn’t rest in one place for very long, Grounders is focused throughout. In the two years that have passed since they put out their debut EP, Wreck of a Smile, Davis and fellow Grounders-mates Evan Lewis (guitar), Mike Searle (bass), and Daniel Busheikin (keyboards) haven’t drastically reworked their sound, but they do seem to have recalibrated their approach. Like the EP, Grounders was recorded by Marcel Ramagnano (who has also worked with fellow Ontario groups like Absolutely Free and Born Ruffians), but this time around they also got David Newfeld to bring the particular skill set he made (in)famous with Broken Social Scene. Thus, instead of zeroing in on a stand-out guitar line or an off-kilter hook as do Wreck of a Smile cuts like “Speedboats” and “Crown Land”, on each of the nine songs here, attention is drawn to everything.
Every individual piece does its part to hold up the whole. The chorus of “Pull It Over Me”, for example, wouldn’t carry the same ache if it didn’t drop that low piano chord — it’s crucial, really. They may have to start towing a baby grand around on tour with them to recreate it properly. In a way not too dissimilar to the man in the Garfield costume ambling around the outer areas of Toronto in the video for “Pull It Over Me” (at least up to the point where Garfield-man, in an echo of Albert Camus’ The Stranger, commits a senseless murder on the beach), Grounders moves steadily but unhurried. It is seemingly at ease even at its most propulsive, as on “Bloor Street and Pressure”, with its Lite-Brite projection of drum machine Motorik and sprightly tug of war between guitars and keys.
Krautrock’s cache has exponentially grown in certain threads of indie rock in recent years, and there are percussive nods to Neu! (and others) throughout the record, including the bracing, bubbling closer, “No Ringers”. Elsewhere, “Pet Uno” recalls Calgary’s much beloved Women as it marches forward with enough frayed jangle and reverb to beat dents in a snare next to Public Strain. There’s also a bit of Mac DeMarco’s slack-strung guitar on “Pull It Over Me”, but the band spin it well into that aforementioned chorus — and Grounders aren’t exactly the first to bum a cigarette from DeMarco’s tone.
“Laying down in the night drifting out/Having fun, thinking his head’s gone round/Something moving from inside/Rolling off the floor, tongue gets tied”, Davis sings on “Vyvanse”, over a bent-note ‘60s blues rock riff that should probably feel out of place surrounded by the swirling and squiggling synths, yet doesn’t. Even when describing a bad reaction to the titular ADHD drug, he’s taking it in stride. By the summer melt of “Fool’s Blanket”, the keyboard line flitting in every direction like a newly sprung moth, he still comes across as serious about the pursuit of serenity: “Never wanna make it / Even when they say I will / Whichever way we go on / Give me nothing this time”. Grounders is an assured first album that is willing to roll with the waves.