As time passes, old methods spawn new ideas that ultimately enrich our lives. At least that's the idea. But in the modern music marketplace, today's treasure is tomorrow's garage sale. The digitization of the industry has allowed consumers to pick at the bones of music, track by track, while rendering the album concept (if not the concept album) almost inconsequential.
Fortunately, technology often gives way to nostalgia, and all that 110 BPM, drum-track, dance-pop bullshit that your hipster buddy tries to convince you is “the bomb” is revealed for what it truly is: bullshit. That's when a band like Grand Archives opens the door to revisiting the little simplicities forgotten along the way.
Led by battle-tested frontman Mat Brooke (vocals/guitar), this quintet of Seattle music veterans released a self-titled debut earlier this year that also happens to be one of the better albums of 2008. More than anything, Grand Archives is, dare I say, fun.
The album is full of lighthearted four-part vocal harmonies, whistles and little melodies that occupy your mind far after you've powered off your iPod. This comes as something of a surprise given that, in addition to a stint with Band of Horses, Brooke was once the co-singer/songwriter for brooding cult favorites Carissa's Wierd.
“When I was doing Carissa's Wierd, I was still young and there was a lot of, you know, the teen-angst thing going on,” Brooke says. “I think that the style of writing that I'm doing now probably comes with age and becoming more comfortable in our own skin.”
Brooke speaks from a hotel room in Chicago, midway through a grueling two-month tour in which the band will play 22 shows in 28 nights. On the surface, it would seem like such a rigorous schedule would be a physical, emotional and logistical nightmare.
“Nah, man,” Brooke declares with casual ease. “That's how we like it. We all get along good enough and once you get that momentum going it sorta just falls into a rhythm. [Taking] a break actually hinders that flow.”
There is a stark contrast between Carissa's Wierd and Grand Archives, but Brooke hasn't left his past completely behind. Grand Archives features former Carissa co-vocalist Jenn Ghetto on the sweet and painful ballad “Swan Matches,” while former drummer Sera Cahoone (now the opening act on the band's current tour) shows up on “Louis Riel” and the chantey (yes, chantey) “The Crime Window.”
At its core, Grand Archives is folk-driven, with Brooke filling the role of throwback poet. His lyrics often hang on themes of nature, travel, rural living, parting ways (“Miniature Birds”), estranged friendships (“Torn Blue Foam Couch”) and the human condition (“George Kaminski”). Violin and banjo meld with the steady strum of acoustic guitar and the twang of pedal steel. The vocals are beautifully haunting and vaguely reminiscent of Brooke's Band of Horses counterpart Ben Bridwell, with high registers complemented by plenty of reverb.
Everything about Grand Archives—from the name to the music to the cover artwork of Grand Archives—feels vintage. As such, their music sounds best played on crackling vinyl, a concept that Brooke—a self-proclaimed “vinyl nerd”—endorses wholeheartedly.
Based on the band's pedigree, Sub Pop signed Grand Archives to a deal in late 2007 when they only had four demo tracks under their belt. But that gamble appears to be a solid play for Sub Pop.
When they were in San Diego three months ago, Grand Archives played The Casbah alongside labelmates Blitzen Trapper and Fleet Foxes. Now, they're headlining their own tour. But don't expect a clone of the first show this time around. Brooke says the band is already prepping for another dive back into the vintage vaults for their next album.
“It's nice playing these dates because it gives us a little more time to expand and play some of the new stuff we have written,” Brooke says. “We've got about half an album written down, and we're really excited to get back into the studio and keep this thing going.” Grand Archives perform Thursday, June 26, with Sara Cahoone and War Stories at The Casbah. 619-232-HELL. www.grandarchives.com.