Followers of the Vancouver music scene will need to give this album its due this summer, because Brocken Spectre just levelled up. The release of Grand Kids EP is exactly what fans would want: right-on-target studio takes of songs they’ve heard live. The band calls its own offerings avant-pop; It’s Neapolitan in flavour: hopefully it’s the sort of freshness that will save us from the deeply adulterated indie-as-a-genre phase. Stripped down, it’s drum kit, guitar and bass, occasional robotic synths, and a stirring voice.
Either they arranged with Mario and Luigi for a shipment of golden mushrooms this year, or it could have something to do with more live performance experience; gains in confidence for the band reveal themselves in brave explorations of their musical territory. Colin Ablitt traverses the upper and lower (rock bottom) limits of his range, while Colin Campbell (drummer) teaches floor toms the greatness they were destined for.
Exploration is a word that could describe this album. The second EP produced by the band, it is mostly the translation of live songs into studio ones, and that’s pretty satisfying. Sonically it contains strong pieces; some parts are catchy as a fishhook.
All parts played by this four-piece from Burnaby/Coquitlam fuse together to produce the slightly dark oft-performed “Marionette King”, with Ablitt’s strong melody lines and Nic Campbell’s crisp guitar work that make the song stand out.
Opening song “Frost”, a fan favourite at shows, translates nicely into studio with the sense of the drums not being lost, the harmonies of the song resolving as usual from minor-keyed trisyllabics into a full-hearted rouser. “Steam Hands” jungle-drum opening glides unexpectedly into blissful alternative rock a la The Decembrists and reveals some strengths of the band.
Repulsed by redundancy, it’s an album of surprises. Sometimes the vocals have a folksy colour to them and sometimes they’re alt-pop. Spectre is good at locking into a groove and equally skilled at recreating it. Andrew Cleasby’s bass keeps the tracks anchored while Colin Campbell drums interesting and cleverly-placed rhythms.
It’s this final, somewhat-Fleet-Foxes-inspired “Corlioghost” that is most striking. Opening with its three-part harmonies and plodding synths, the track develops awestruck lyrics like: “I’ve been fascinating on you for some time now…lion, come and catch me”. It packs a punch in its diversity, changing and fading only after a drum, bass and guitar interlude that is a concert staple for the band.
“Anteros & I” is unexpected. This grungy piece explores the gravel floor of Ablitt’s vocals and drags a little, but the song upshifts gears and becomes incredibly enjoyable after he takes a turn for his more familiar upper reaches. Tight stick work from Campbell drives it forward; indeed, it contains some of the most memorable harmonies and rhythms on the whole album.
A greatest strength can show its cracks: while the diversity on this album will be pleasing to most listeners, some might desire greater unity. These will need to wait for more material from the band. In the meantime, the majority will enjoy the places Brocken Spectre has explored on this EP.