by Jon Hunt
Greycoats, Adrift: Ten Selected Tales of Adventure, Terror and Fantasy
THIS. THIS. THIS. A thousand times, this.
Have you ever had one of those totally visceral reactions to an album — like you’re overcome by the urge to, like, stand up in your chair or pump your fist in the air or maybe just yell “yes!” loudly at the top of your voice? That was me, from top to tails of Adrift, the completely intriguing and magnificent new album from Minneapolis band Greycoats. I kept wanting to tell someone, anyone that this album was great — ended up texting three or four of my super-baffled friends — “OMG OMG OMG, you need to hear this album, dude. It’s like this crazy, romantic, gorgeous space opera, like nothing you’ve heard in the last 30 years.” Replies ranged from “OK” to “OK?” The latter, I think, wondering if I was okay. But I was, it’s just that — albums like this don’t come along very often.
It’s kind of — if someone made an album just for me, what would it sound like? Well, you guys know I’m a nerd, and most specifically a prog nerd, so it would probably be an album about science fiction or something with lots of little progressive elements like interesting analog synths (tons of analog synths!) and cool guitar sounds. And what else? Well, I like big, romantic melodies. I like disco beats! I like clear-voiced male singers who know their way around a falsetto. I like big lush harmonies! I like not taking yourself too god-damn seriously, meaning albums that are super fun. This album is basically that album — like these guys said “how can we specifically please Jon Hunt at L’Etoile Magazine and make an album that tweaks every single one of his musical pleasure centers?” Minus maybe metal and soul music (no, scratch that, “Fade to Blue” is soulful as hell!), but like almost everything else is repped here, in force. That never, ever, ever happens to me.
And Greycoats! I’ve always found them good, like pretty damn good, but you know how you look at a band and go “wow, these guys have promise” and they never live up to that promise? Like never? These guys met that promise and exceeded it by, like, 200 light years. I liked their last album World of Tomorrow a lot — it was a mellow, subtle, very pretty listen, semi-beholden to the twee orchestration of a Bon Iver or a Sufjan Stevens, very very smart but more hushed and sparkling than heavy and with not a lot of what you’d call muscle. To say this album is a left turn from that is kind of an understatement — while World was pretty, this thing is straight-up magnificent and epic in all the exact right ways. Like they took all their ambitions and stretched them out super-long like one of those Stretch Armstrong dolls. Like they magnified all their abilities — always wrote great melodies, always sang pretty, always knew their way around an arrangement — through one of those comically large magnifying glasses you see in Road Runner cartoons. Oh, and there’s muscle, where you want muscle, and mellow prettiness where you need that to be and tons and tons of interesting — you know, beats and melodies and choruses, like you want! God, this is good. All the time, all the way, good.
In a nutshell, glibly: this is the album Muse has been trying for like ten years to make but failing because they’re too bro-tastic to pull off. It’s a science fiction concept album (!!!) which the band has been performing in a set that looks like a moving spaceship (which is rad as hell) where each song is apparently a little sci-fi story. Meaning it has a lot of the stuff you’d want in a sci-fi concept album — nifty spacey sounds, most of them from old-school sounding keyboards and vocorders and neatly twangy guitars, lyrics about space, general spaciness of mood (i.e. you gotta feel like you’re floating through the cosmos or this doens’t work). If you’re used to Greycoats being kind of Bon Iver mellow, get ready for songs like the starts-slow-but-gets-intense “John Glenn Blues,” or the wildly dancey “Knights of Lake Ladoga” or the pretty-god-damn heavy “Old Believers” which just drips with atmosphere and menace. Best song: the insanely catchy and perfect “Strange Animals” which rises and falls on one of those perfectly chiming guitar riffs and a hugely romantic chorus. Prettiest song: “Guardian,” which I could listen to all day long, which rises and falls on tufts of pretty three-part harmony and one of those eighth-note basslines that the best U2 songs wield. Best use of autotune in the last five years on a non-rap record: “Fade to Blue,” which manages to make the tried-and-true effect sound genuinely futuristic.
God, so good, so good, so good. I’m not even sure I can identify a weak point anywhere on this thing — it’s the perfect length (!!!), every song has the right amount of hookage, there’s no filler, the detail work is just startling (little bells here, sound effects there, cool guitar licks where you don’t expect ’em), at no point do you think “god, if only they’d just tried a little harder.” Even the sleeve is rad as fuck. Basically, this is the sound of a group who went “fuck it, let’s just straight-up create a masterpiece” and then completely just did that. I’m not even sure I possess the amount of props to bestow on that kind of ambition and that kind of pulling-off-all-that-ambition. To say that this is my local album of the year is maybe an understatement — it’s gonna creep into my top ten period, because this is an album made for my exact set of tastes, and I kinda still can’t believe it exists. I can’t promise you that you’ll have the same reaction, but damned if can’t guarantee you will be blown away by this thing.