The next time I speak with Bobby Granfelt about High Pulp, we’re roughly 1,100 miles apart. It’s an early February afternoon in 2022, and two weeks prior the band formally announced their new record, now titled Pursuit of Ends. On a Zoom call, Granfelt speaks from the garage in the house he’s renting, and even in the dead of winter, you can sense the warmth in the building, the sun shining outside the open door. It’s hard not to envy his position as he absorbs the comfortable California climate while sipping on a chilled beverage. “Just mint and lemon,” he responds when asked about its contents. I picked the lemon on my walk this morning. It’s 85 degrees today, it’s sort of bananas. It’s wonderful.”
Judging from his demeanor and the way he describes his current circumstances, he hasn’t regretted the move to Los Angeles at all. Rather, it seems to have rejuvenated him. “I love it out here,” he says. “I feel more myself than I’ve ever felt.” He pauses to find the right words. “Seattle’s tough, man. It’s home and it’s beautiful and that’ll never change, but to be out here I feel like I’ve had a whole new sense of energy. I feel like I’m in my early twenties again, just hungry.”
If the material on Pursuit of Ends is any indication, his choice seems especially salient. The band’s Mutual Attraction EPs and their introductory single for ANTI-, “Motel Money“, may have signaled a newfound desire to transcend their jam-based origins, but on Pursuit of Ends, they appear truly ravenous for the opportunity to flex the fruits of their labor.
It’s apparent from the moment “Ceremony” blazes in like a siren call, transforming from a hypnotic pulse into a 15/16 ellipse that rotates and blossoms around the ears. Homan’s and Martel’s synths punctuate the din; Morrill’s horn harmonies penetrate the heart’s walls; Granfelt keeps the band anchored to its labyrinthine polyrhythm. The song provides an auspicious intro for the rest of the record, which bounds between the Uhles-led guitar harmonies of the prismatic “Blaming Mercury” (Uhles has since departed the band on amicable terms), the smoky hedonism of “A Ring on Each Finger” and the uptempo bop of “Chemical X”.
The foundations of each track are anchored by recognizable elements – like the Boards of Canada synths on “Window to a Shimmering World”, which then opens into triads a la Koji Kondo. At the same time, there’s little exact precedent for the material besides the soupy melange of influences present in most post-Internet jazz. But it’s stunning, and Granfelt comes across confident in the band’s newfound power.
“I felt that what we were doing prior to this was, we were just figuring out what we wanted to do,” he says. “For the first time, we established our core group of decision-makers, and therefore we benefitted from a certain amount of clarity that the other records didn’t have. Hopefully, it comes across as one-of-a-kind, something you can only get from those people.”
“All Roads Lead to Los Angeles”, which carries the record’s most obvious bebop influence and features a deft, sinusoidal sax solo by Jaleel Shaw, is already a milestone in High Pulp’s development. But it’s the track’s music video, directed by Sara Jade Alfaro that truly stuns. Carried by the brilliantly emotive Zaahira Joseph, the video pulls off what all great music videos do, especially those without lyrics. It takes the material and expands on its elements – the mood, the tempo, the dynamic – in meaningful thematic ways.
“We just reached out to her,” Granfelt says of the Toronto-based director, who attended McGill University along with Martel and Morrill, “I said, ‘I don’t want you to view this as a commission. I want you to view this like it’s your art. I want you to have skin in the game, I want you to take pride in whatever you complete.’ Not that you wouldn’t if you were being commissioned, but it’s different when you’re working for somebody versus when somebody’s saying, “I want you to do you on this.”
The same rules applied to album art designer Robert Beatty, whose previous work includes covers for works by Tame Impala and Knife Nights, and the album’s guests, who range from alto saxophonist Shaw to harpist Brandee Younger (on the lush, Cosmogramma-like “Wax Hands”) to synth sculptor Jacob Mann on “Kamishinjo.” “Robert was down to do it,” he says about the record’s striking cover, “and that’s how I feel, how we all feel, about the features on the record too. Being able to work with Jade on the music video, we’re humbled about how it all fell into place.”
Titles can contain a trove of meaning, but Granfelt stays cagey about allocating meaning to them. “To me, a lot of stuff like titles are sort of like…they feel like koans to me,” he says. “There are infinite right and wrong answers, and the rightness or the wrongness of the interpretation precedes the actual words. In a similar way, the rightness or wrongness of a song being called something precedes the name itself. There are infinite ‘right’ titles for this record, Pursuit of Ends is just one that felt right to me. It has different interpretations, like you were saying, it is sort of like a proclamation in that way. [Pursuit of Ends] is sort of a flip on ‘pursuit of happiness’. Music makes me happy. That’s why this album feels like an arrival.”
While there’s no particularly strong through-line tying up the album conceptually, there’s one song that means a great deal to Granfelt. The title for “You’ve Got to Pull It Up from the Ground,” featuring GRAMMY-nominated trumpeter Theo Croker, comes from an ad in What’s Up Mag that Granfelt interpreted as a mantra of sorts. To him, the declaration represents a way of life, one built on urgency and action. “When your back is against the wall, you have two options: ‘live or die’, like DoNormaal’s Jump or Die. It’s a way of living. It’s left or right, it’s zero or one. It’s good or bad, it’s hope or death, and you gotta choose.”
Wherever his aspirations lead, whatever happens for the High Pulp down the road, Granfelt has both self-discipline and the accountability of his bandmates to help keep him steady. “With bands, we all check each other. We all make decisions. [High Pulp] is the sum of its parts, and as it goes through our individual filters, we get ego-checked. This serves us well because we’re clear about where our priority is. We know what our value is.”
“I hope this record reaches a lot of people. I wouldn’t have changed anything, none of us would have. We’re just gonna go on to the next one, and then we’re going on to the next next one,” he says. “It’s the process. It becomes a mirror for everything else in life, too.”
As Granfelt and High Pulp illustrate, the constant in their philosophy is the pursuit. To strive toward beauty in an ugly world – or meaning in a chaotic one – may be virtuous, but it’s the striving itself that really matters.