Grin & Bear is a four-piece alt-rock band born on the New Jersey coast and raised in the Central Jersey basement scene. Led by the conversational songwriting of frontman Brian Perrino, Grin & Bear pulls influence from artists such as Kevin Devine, Car Seat Headrest, Modest Mouse and Pedro The Lion. The band’s songs are often structurally unpredictable, rhythmically driven and lyrically forward.
After putting out a release with Drew Villafuerte, formerly of The Front Bottoms, and self-recording their 2015 LP, Range Wars, Grin & Bear took a new approach for their new disc, Everything Is Gravy, by recruiting Cameron Boucher of Sorority Noise for production. The band spent a week at Cam’s “Metal Shop” studio in Fishtown, Philadelphia, to lay out five solid tracks with their most cohesive feel yet. The band’s latest was released on October 12 of this year on Good Friend Records.
As the band’s bio states, Everything Is Gravy deals with being alive, even if it sucks sometimes. With that information as a guideline, I took a listen to Everything Is Gravy and this is what I came up with.
The first song on the disc is called “Belladonna.” Balancing sonic guitars (provided by Perrino and Avon) with bass, drums, and vocals, this song is a combination of everything right from the mid-’90s and David Bazan from Pedro The Lion. Cosmically tight, the song combines complex chord changes with smart arrangements and blistering vocal offerings. Guitars whirl and cascade over the top of the solid drum and bass work as singer Brian Perrino blends raspy, raw throat wailing with intimate verse work. If I were to describe the style, I would have to brand this as progressive/alternative rock, as the band doesn’t follow any particular trend or style of new delivery to get their point across. A great song filled with a mosaic grouping of intricate sounds.
Up next is a sort of album namesake, “Everything Is Gravy, Then You Die.” Once again Grin & Bear mixes ’90s angst with mounting arrangements to get their point across. Utilizing dead stops, staccato-like turnarounds and instrumental domination, Grin & Bear roll down their specific road of bombastic glory on “Everything Is Gravy, Then You Die.” From arrangement diversions that take the listeners down trails of prog rock to full out choruses of rock and roll rebellion, the band hits every measure of emotional performance available. The band also harmonizes quite well. Between lead vocalist Brian Perrino and the rest of his crew, they lay a smooth and incredibly lush blanket of vocal magic over the music, and it works like gangbusters.
“Grin & Bear” is up next and cuts into the platter with jangly guitar intros before the band kicks in and lays down a real line of instrumental chaos before Perrino takes center stage along with acoustic guitar work. The band kicks back in for a second before they back off for electric guitar intros and then back in as a band. Many people would categorize a group like this as an emo offshoot, but that’s far from the truth. Their compositional skills rely on complex changes and arrangement shuffles as they go from section to section with changes and periods of open space. Perrino alternates between raw, emotional outcries and melodic, sing-song vocal inflections and it work well. Most of their music isn’t commercial sounding pop music, and I don’t think they care in the least. Great song, great performance.
“100 Years” comes out of the speakers next. Acoustic guitars sound and attack as Perrino emotes with a 100 percent convincing vocal performance. Guitarist Will Avon lends auditory bliss to the overall mix, blending well with Perrino’s rhythm work. Bass is handled by a guy named Grabbin’ Fishes, and he works well with drummer Chris Calabrese. Together the two hold the bottom line while Perrino and Avon paint aural pictures of otherworldly sound over the top. Choruses are outstanding and should be appreciated by radio of different types. I love the staccato technique this band uses in most of its music. They almost use it as a way to signal changes and new feels that are coming next. Once again, Grin & Bear prove worth with outlandish compositional style and content.
The last tune on this short EP is called “All New People.” If I thought the rest of this disc had overtones of progressive rock on it, this song is the epitome of that statement. Starting out with fingerpicked guitars, drum hits, and bass thunder, Perrino and crew weave a tapestry of complex and intricate sounds to get their message across. At around 1:18 the band actually fires up and turns from springy, psychedelic grunge into a true work of progressive art. Avon peels off layers of melodic guitar riffage as Perrino, Calabrese and Grabbin’ Fishes amp up the background. The song quality of this group is high and “All New People” shines brightly in their arsenal of musical missiles.
Grin & Bear is a phenomenal Monmouth County band that you should add to your “must have” list. Combining feeling with performance and arrangement talent, Grin & Bear proves their worth in a sea of Americana drivel out there now. The new record, Everything Is Gravy, is available on Spotify and iTunes, as well as other musical outlets available online.
For more information on Grin & Bear, head over to their Facebook page and start asking questions. facebook.com/grinandbearmusic.