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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Grass Widow Past Time

I haven't written about Grass Widow yet, partially because their last record, Past Time, was released by Kill Rock Stars (my work) and it's sometimes hard to figure out the line between "promotional writing" and criticism.

When Past Time came out, I noticed a lot of critics tried to lump them into a category that exclusively contained other contemporary all-female bands that I didn't think they shared much in common with other than gender. This is one of the curses of being in an all-female band. While there is a feminist aspect to it as well, your audience tends to only hear your music in relation other all-female groups, which can be unfortunate because there are many ways to listen and in Grass Widow's case, so much to hear!

Grass Widow are like The Raincoats or The Minutemen or even The Melvins in method, meaning they create their own formalistic, aesthetic universe with its own internal logic. They don't sound like they are following anyone's rules at all. They sound like they are listening to themselves and each other and creating their own musical language. The bass often sounds like a guitar, the drum beats are unique and expressive, the guitar playing is personalized and fresh. They use dissonant notes in their melodies and complicated rhythms, but their music feels driven, it doesn't fall behind, there are hooks and there is a solid dynamic. The tension in their songs build and dissipate and build again like Virginia Woolf's writing in The Waves. The singing weaves all of their voices together, creating lyrical complexity. Varying points of views, ideas & impressions linger.

Their aesthetic can be viewed as an argument for multiplicity. There is no "lead vocalist" or front person, they are a group. When three voices are equally amplified which one do we listen to? In philosophical pluralism, multiple subjective perspectives are said to create a more complete picture of reality. In other words, "the truth" is more fully realized when many truths are expressed. Grass Widow is expansive in a similar way. Because of this, reviews that compare them to The Dum Dum Girls or whatever seem particularly offensive in their reductionism. So do statements that describe them as a "surf-band" or a "garage band"...it's like, huh? Is anyone listening to this record?!!! It actually requires some serious effort to take it all in. It's psychedelic in its layers and thought-provoking in content and strategy...not easy to categorize or digest but a joy to listen to.

Past Time is slowly turning into one of my favorite records of all time. It's not every year that a record this good comes out. I urge you to take some time with their songs and check out these videos. They are all totally awesome.

Here's a FREE MP3 for Shadow


Slice Harvester said...

That Give Me Shapes video is so good!

maren said...

i saw them play a few weeks ago and the are so inspiring and empowering just the way they are, it made being me seem really cool.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree with you more. It does seem like this record is going over peoples heads. I've had Past Time for over a month now and im still discovering new ideas from it. Incredible.

This Side of LA said...

This is kind of promotional writing rather self-advocacy.

Tobi Vail said...

Well it's an honest review and I wasn't paid to write it, but yeah I do have a conflict of interest, which sometimes makes it hard to be honest! I think the best thing to do in that case it to be upfront about it, but in reality, I do know a lot of the people whose music I write about...sometimes it better to just say nothing...but in this case, I love the record and wanted to tell the world about Grass Widow!

Katie said...

I saw them open for Wild Flag and they were great! I think they are writing and playing from a single hive mind or something... the way they are playing off each other is really amazing. I think you made the conflict of interest pretty clear up front, and I can see why you would feel you had to write up loving this band in spite of it.

Anonymous said...

They must be really good live.

This review really left an impression on me. It left me thinking Grass Widow must be really fantastic and original, so I bought the CD at Music Millennium. It was in a plastic jewel case and cost $15. Ouch! I bit the bullet and forked out the cash, with high expectations.

And I kind of liked it for the first three songs. Though I thought the guitar tone was hash, like they were using solid state amps. And maybe the subtlety escapes me but the tempos and drumbeats were so similar song to song, structures so fluid, that there wasn't anything to really grab on to. It all started to sound the same to me.

I think female groups in general tend to have more equal blending of voices and less structured hierarchy and that is one reason they can be so fun.

I tried to sell the CD back to the same store 2 weeks later. They offered me $2.