There’s a certain — BANG — vibe you expect — CRUNCH — when you get a Revelation — GRIND — Records — FUCK THE WORLD — CD. Usually the coloration of an RR disc cover is dark, on top of a layer of darker, incorporating knives, fists, or barbed wire. And anything approaching a murder scene’s gore is de rigueur.
I’m not at all averse to any of that, but my ears and mind did triple-flip loops when the first strains — a different kind than usual — floated out from Gracer. This album, Voices Travel is remarkably free of cynicism, jism and nihilism. So much so that as I looked down the song listing I wondered if “Hands” would be a Jewel cover.
The album-opening trills of “Hold On” has the jingle guitar backdrop of “Where the Streets Have No Name” It has the same uplifting vibe, as one would expect from a song called “Hold On.” It has syrup, but it doesn’t drip.
Hold on to what we have
Because we might not make it through
What else could I ask of you?
I’m listening and thinking they remind me of Chicago or Boston, or a better-singing Alice Cooper during his balladic career stops, except that I like this. Gracer have a dull edge to their pop. I mean this in a good way. It’s not over-the-top, soaring, crushed heart-on-sleeve vocals. It’s a slower “Wonderwall.” It’s a Yardbirds remake, with higher-pitched vocals and less raw talent.
“Emily Taylor” perfectly captures this Journeyesque vibe, but with a decided lack of histrionics and lack of vibrato. Eighties light rock — what did they call it, AOR? — always bored me to tears, and this album is haunted by that era’s plaintive background wail. I get the occasional Peter Cetera, Chris De Burgh flashback through some of the songs, but it’s like the bitter aftertaste of a coffee of Turkish ancestry. It’s tolerable because the rest is better.
It’s the third song, “Esperanza” that uses REM as its lingua franca. All eras of the Athens, Georgia band come together in one song. “Crushed Eyeliner” mashed with “Green” slapped upside with a decided loss of religion.
You want so badly to pretend that
you’ll never return home again
You’re breaking down, you’re still breaking down
We all speak in love anyway.
We all want the same thing.
We all stem from the same tree.
The band in rueful tones sings this universal language of love, with a lust chaser. It’s a tone of that one lost love that they’re trying to get back to. It sounds like they’ve been looking for a long time.
The 45-minute album is just about the right length for one theme. “Waiting for Departures” sounds a lot like Esperanza, with a high floating repeated phrase, solid drums and a fuzzing, streaking “dull” guitar throughout. You can see images of an American Airlines commercial flicker on the back of your eyelids at certain lullful parts of the song.
It always pays to look at the members of a band last when new music hits your membrane. This threesome look like a slightly cleaned-up Nirvana. An “All Apologies,” In Utero acoustic Silly Putty transfer of the seminal ’90s confused fucks.
The difference is, Gracer doesn’t seem afraid of commerce or commerciality, though their look belies that. (Maybe intentionally and boy aren’t I a cynical wanker.) The band does it well. They never hit the cravat and Chardonnay banal. They do flirt with it, at times, as looking across a room at the overly made-up woman nursing the Screwdriver and proclaim with an inner voice, “I’ll settle.”
But at least they’re getting theirs. I’d love to hear this band open up — so I can get mine — and I’ll look for their next effort.
By the way, a closer look at the CD cover would have given another clue to the innards of this band and its music. Atop a foreboding building, which appears to be a bottling factory of the early 20th century, is a scrubbed-white square of the outside wall. Inside the cleansed area reads, “HOPE.”
Having recovered from expectation, I stop the album about midway through song two and start again.