SHACKING UP, OR MOVING IN? Grand Hotel have a promising start. CREDIT: Visions for Viewers
Bands come and go. Especially local ones. The money's not great, personalities clash, young and single people tend to move around a lot. Kyle Gervais with Cosades had a band a lot of us in Portland will remember for a long time, but they broke up last year for the reasons that bands break up. Alias Grace were a band only a few of us even knew about. They formed, put out an album that showed great promise in the summer of 2008, and then broke up.
Now we have Grand Hotel, featuring Alias Grace guitarist Glen Capen, bassist Jason Elvin, and drummer Aaron Lachance, fronted by Gervais, putting out a debut EP this weekend. Is this a band you can dare to fall in love with? Maybe they're a one-night stand, but you'll forever think about what could have been; maybe they'll put a ring on your finger.
If you pass like two ships in the night, you'd be missing out. Gervais's talent continues to be unmistakable, with a rare ability to channel raw emotion and induce empathy, and Capen, Elvin, and Lachance combine to back him with a rippling, edgy, nerve-y kind of rock that's captured well by emerging producer Noah Cole (the Cambiata).
Their six-song self-titled debut can be bleak and morose, but there are bright, shining moments of melodic hope, soaring instrumental bridges and hook-filled choruses. "Visual" has a whomping '80s vamp in the open, like the Killers if they were from this cold and gritty place instead of Las Vegas. And just as you're digging on the verse, they shift into an a capella shout: "Why can't a love be only visual?" It's a thrilling transition that makes the 3:29-long song seem terribly short. This is a band that know they can get away with being a little crazed and disturbed, without being all that heavy, just working with sharp edges and brittle melodies that seem like they could crack at any time.
"Footsteps" is bass-heavy and adds a cello: "I've been wasting my time trying to hear your voice again." After an electric wash of an instrumental break, Gervais comes back really pained, "you feel so far away," and I actually care. The song plods and lurches, Lachance here, as elsewhere, both time-keeping and keeping the listener off-kilter.
"Ride the Light" is a classic drugs-and-girls rock tune (not surprising considering Cosades' A Lack of Heroine) with that indie-rock two-note cycling up and down the fretboard and a late-song devolution into drunken, fucked-up crescendos. "You know I like the chemicals," Gervais sings in a high tenor, with deeper backing vocals for body. "I got a habit for staring and I'm drooling girl"; "I feel your mind just breaking."
Sounds like a recipe for a tumultuous relationship.
Sam Pfeifle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
GRAND HOTEL | Released by Grand Hotel | with Brenda + Lady Lamb the Beekeeper | at the Empire, in Portland | August 13 | with Pushing the Clock + Six String Crush | at MJ's Tavern, in Brunswick | August 15 | www.myspace.com/grandhotel