The Griswolds: High Times For Low Lives

Photo: Paige Wilson

A desperate plea for radio recognition, the Griswolds' High Times For Low Lives is a step back for a band known for tentpole hooks and untempered kinetic dynamism.

The Griswolds

High Times For Low Lives

Label: Wind-up
US Release Date: 2016-11-11
UK Release Date: 2016-11-11

On their 2015 acoustic EP, Australia's the Griswolds performed a bare-bones rendition of Walk the Moon's breakout hit "Anna Sun". There's a reason why they opted for it: Walk the Moon make music -- iridescent, innocuous, ignorance-is-bliss pop -- that the Griswolds aspire to make. "We tore up the walls / We slept on couches / We lifted this house," Christopher Whitehall sang, not so much interpreting the song as reprising Nicholas Petricca's original vocal. It's a rapid-fire parallelism that encapsulates the commercial image the Griswolds are hoping to claim, the same image that Walk the Moon claimed a long time ago. We're not just faux-hipster slackers who sleep on couches, Whitehall and co. seem to argue, we're rabid 20-something hedonists who'll turn up our amps until your wallpaper is shredded and your roof is capsized.

Sometimes, this image fits them well. Their fizzy, hook-heavy 2015 debut Be Impressive contained a few surefire earworms eager to burrow into your short-term memory; its singles probably lassoed the attention of New York's Wind-up Records in the first place. "Beware the Dog" managed to turn rambunctiousness into infectiousness. "If You Wanna Stay", likewise, succeeded through sheer unfiltered dynamism. It remains the quintessence of tentpole pop -- a massive, singalong chorus propping up an otherwise anodyne trifle. On High Times For Low Lives, though, the caffeine buzz seems to be wearing off. Here, the hooks don't hit as hard, the melodies seem more labored, and the production sounds like it was either intended for a Maroon 5 knockoff or the solo career of one of the ex-1D heartthrobs.

This is not to say that High Times For Low Lives is all lows and no highs. While nothing matches the near-epileptic energy of "Beware the Dog" or "If You Wanna Stay", there are moments that are sure to please pure-pop enthusiasts who ask for little else other than a melodic pathogen injected into their eardrum. In "Lookin' For Love", Whitehall nearly loses his voice belting out the chorus melody. Listening, one almost wishes that he would push it to a point of rupture; it would be a welcome fissure, a gasp of fresh air, a revelation of vulnerability amid an LP of otherwise unblemished sonic polish. "Get Into My Heart", perhaps the closest the band comes to recapturing Be Impressive's breakneck fervor, is a straightforward dance-pop confection that moves your feet and makes no demands.

"No inhibitions / Making bad decisions", Whitehall sings earlier on "Birthday", what sounds like a coked-out hybrid of the Neighbourhood and Nick Jonas circa 2014. With these words, he's exalting substance use and the freedom it can generate, but he's also unintentionally describing what seems to be the Griswolds' approach on the LP. These are songs from a band throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks; some work out, but most just sound like ill-advised genre experiments. "YDLM" is a time-warp funk flop that was probably left on Mark Ronson's cutting room floor. "Out of My Head" is anthemic festival-circuit pop at its most reductive, and the title track reduplicates the same synth-tinged balladeering we've already heard on the radio a hundred times this year. If the Griswolds were hoping to cement their status as "Australia's Walk the Moon", they've still got some work to do.






A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.


Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.


Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.


The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.


Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.


Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.


Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.


'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

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