AIMING HIGH Grand Hotel.
Less than a year following their terrific self-titled full-length debut, Grand Hotel are back with in color, an album that sees that debut and raises the stakes considerably. Added to the urgent post-rock with which they've established themselves are dance beats, soulful call-and-response choruses, all manner of nuances that create alternately biting juxtapositions and soaring polyphony.
They are a band full of bravado who do things exactly the way they want. Open an album with an eight-minute song that takes two minutes to build and another two to play out? Why not? "Hurricane" is introduction by construction: Aaron Lachance's drums open, mean and crisp; he's joined by bassist Jason Elvin, kind of nasty; Glen Capen and Michael Reid enter with first chiming guitar chords, then a single-note melody. Finally, there is Kyle Gervais's vocal: "Such a mystery, the way you walk in/I know that you miss me/Now that we're talking."
As with the last album, I wouldn't mind if Gervais was mixed more to the fore here and throughout, but this isn't a vocal-dependent album, despite Gervais's charisma and versatility. And I might have saved this eight-minute number to open the album's "b side."
But there's so much to recommend this as the first track. The slow burn that sets the stage. The change of pace where Gervais sings, "the wind is starting to blow/I'm starting to lose control," as though the album is about to explode. Elvin setting the stage for his bass-playing to drive the songs, smart and strutting, like Sting's playing sometimes, both straight ahead and not at the same time.
It takes up a fifth of the 42 minutes here, making the other 10 songs seem like a rapid-fire assault afterwards. Grand Hotel make sure they pop appropriately. "I Gotta New Message" introduces an industrial-dance feel that permeates the disc, bringing in elements of MGMT, Hot Chip, maybe even LCD Soundsystem. The bass is fuzzy and big-bottomed, and Gervais is cutting to the quick: "I've seen the inside of your record collection/Don't you think it's time for a change?"
Later, following an explosive high-end melody spike, he sneers in a more spoken delivery: "You say nobody talks to you that way/Well maybe they should/Cuz I talk however I want."
"Walken" is '60s pop-rock drenched in noise, like the Everly Brothers encased in concrete and dropped to the bottom of Casco Bay. "Body Touch" has a guitar tone and bite like Modest Mouse's "Missed the Boat." "Go Go Gadget Gorgeous" is two minutes of electronic snare-driven beat with caustic elements, boops and beeps, and a swirling sort of thing that coalesces with a melody line eked out on what might be a xylophone, maybe.
Then comes the big mid-album apex. "Boomboomboom" leads with Gervais muted and chunky, "I want you to love me, but I don't want to care," then launches into a giant rock chorus: "Well if you're looking for a man to take you out tonight/Could be we pretend that I'm not here/And could you please turn out that light?"
These songs are infused with sex without coming off either sleazy or cheesy. Whatever the other genres pulled into the music, the themes are old-time rock and roll. Girls. Guys. Getting together. Breaking apart. "Boomboomboom" goes the heart. If yours doesn't get racing, stick with something safer than this.