gig reviews

GRICE - Propeller

By Ben Errington

Grice

The debut solo album from GRICE is an interesting release for me to review; the man behind it being an influence and mentor when I started my adventures in music nine long years ago with a college music project, COBRA (City of Bristol Rising Artists). If it wasn’t for him, I would perhaps not be screaming my head off on stage every few weeks or so, which makes ‘Propeller’ something of a monumental listen for me.

The album is described as a ‘challenging cocktail of electro-acoustic glitch, art-rock and avant-pop synthesis’ and it’s just that, but so much more. The group of songs presented here are accomplished flashes of excellent song writing paired with the highest quality musicianship, which makes for a truly enriching listening experience. The production values are superb and the songs continue to intrigue with the constant introductions of new instruments, all the while providing an elaborate backdrop for GRICE’s vocals.

‘Patiently’ starts with whimsical picked guitar, dancing piano keys and a howling trumpet. The sound created is aggressively original, the opening track coasting along at a dreamlike pace. ‘Let It Go’ is thoughtful and spiritual, the lyrics striking a chord with the human condition (“Can you tell me who to be?”), taking the listener on a provoking five minute journey. A tapestry of strings swells, GRICE’s unique soft vocals gliding alongside them. The track is easy listening at its best, flowing along like a gentle tide; every element heard being performed with great attention to detail.

‘Slowdive’ has macabre guitar notes, a pulsating drum beat and illuminative instrumentals (including a flute and various synthesizers). The vocals continue to be smooth and light, lifting the song into the air and playing with accents of world music (Africa especially). ‘Highly Strung’ has a similar sound, yet includes a slightly more intense edge. The guitars are electric and the bass line often strays into funk territory. The chorus builds with distorted chords, all elements exploding as vocals soar with the song’s hook (“You’re highly strung”). After several times through the motions, a solo fades in before the track draws to a close.

A brief interlude arrives with ‘214 Squadron’ with rumbling engine sound effects, overhead planes and the crackling of a radio signal. The second act of the album begins with ‘Propeller’, the title track of the album and no doubt the centrepiece of the release. Minimal instruments (quiet guitars, hushed piano keys) and almost spoken lyrics create a sombre atmosphere. It’s a folk song at its core, delicately weaving magic and delivering positive feelings. ‘Propeller (Coda)’ follows with echo-laden percussion, synth strings and various sound effects, creating a bizarre and unnerving follow-up to the title track.

‘Lost & Found (006.5)’ channels jazz with jangling keys, soft trumpet and understated beats. It builds and falls, the quietest of journeys so far on this eclectic and ambitious album. Saxophone soon takes over, dancing along the same melodies as the keys. Funk/jazz and lounge music can be heard, along with the glam edge of such classic artists as David Bowie and T-Rex. The smooth tones carry on with ‘Broken Arrow’, trumpets setting the scene and acoustic guitars painting the landscape. Jazz ambience is revisited and bright sounds suggest an interesting folklore.

‘Propeller (Overture)’ is another interlude in the proceedings, a saxophone/piano combination that feels like a 80s power ballad. ‘Summer Screams’ includes another touch of the macabre with wailing strings, despairing vocals and a delightful use of melodic harmonies. ‘The Cage’ is melancholic and jaunty, another folk track with acoustic guitar that sings almost as loudly as the passion filled vocals. Cowboy guitar pulls the track into a county and western sound at times, which is a nice touch. Album closer ‘Propeller (Reprise)’ is another instrumental track, organ synths providing mysterious sounds, which is an enchanting way to finish the album.

GRICE’s ‘Propeller’ is a considerate and sophisticated album, containing the musical expertise of many experienced musicians, which propels this group of songs to otherworldly heights. For me, the band Porcupine Tree can be heard in patches, which is a great band to have any comparisons to, the progressive sound GRICE commands being something that is remarkable.

The album is out now, released by Hunger Sleep Records and available from online store, Burning Shed.

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