Where do we go from here? - Grimus - Egretta

Well, this was long overdue. This album feels like it was in the making ever since Panikon was released, back in ’08, when I first heard Fingerprints.

If you don’t know Grimus, they’re one of the hottest Romanian bands, and one of the only that sounds modern enough to have a shot at the international market, which I really hope they’ll break into.

The first contact with the album is the artwork and the liner notes, which are… less than stellar. Actually, they’re pretty awful. The cover has no connection whatsoever to what their music is about, looking more like a generic dance album. The liner notes are full of stock fonts on uninspired backdrops and together they’re… even uglier than the parts.

I don’t want to dwell too much on this negative aspect, but if you’re not acquainted with the band name (which is the case for markets other than Romania) , this is your first impression, which can be a make or break moment, and it’s goddamn fugly, and it’s really a shame, because the package doesn’t do the music justice. I don’t know what happened there, as the dude who did the artwork is talented, and the artwork for Panikon is way better, way more in tune with what’s happening on the album.

I’ve been listening to Egretta a lot, while waiting, working, reading, walking the streets, etc. and I’ll tell you this: even though it’s extremely catchy, the album is a grower. It has it’s weird flow, like an emotional rollercoaster, taking you from lonely to “let’s dance all night” to “my god, i love her” and round and round.

This schizo attitude seems to be a good indicator of where the band is at right now: not quite sure if to go the mainstream radio-driven route, or work their way through the underground to true rock-star status. It’s clear they’ve got the pop sensibilities to pump out danceable hits one after another (Started and Attracted (to people who look like us) prove this), but I don’t know if that’s where their soul is. This idea is enforced by the production. While it’s a “guitar driven album” (Adam, the producer’s words), the distorsion on the guitars is driven just a bit lower than where it should be to really have an impact, in my humble little ears.

  • Cave –   The intro organ seems to shout “We are from Transylvania”. Then it quiets down and  gives way to a good impression of what to expect – short, catchy songs full of awesome riffs, with amazing vocals and smart lyrics.
  • Started- oh, Started, how I hated you when you first went on air during last year’s Summer. You used to be played at least 5-6 times a day on Guerilla Radio, the station of choice where I used to work back then with Stef. Every time you went on, we’d exchange glances that didn’t speak volumes, just “Dude, wtf, this isn’t real Grimus”. Well, in the context of the album you found your place – through all the depression of the other songs, it’s good to have a “jump up and get silly” moment. You’re the Manic Pixie Dream Girl of the album. Sure, you may be a bit cliché and formulaic, but everyone still loves and needs you from time to time, me included.
  • Promise- I’m so glad Vali found his voice. This song wouldn’t have been the same without his voice, and that would’ve been, well, bad. Meditative and chilling.
  • Egretta (as if it’s real)- Definitely one of the highlights of the album, Possibly Bogdan’s best performance on the album, and one of the songs which could have used a little oompf in the distors. Still, it has a pull-your-hair-from-your-head ending, which comes after a continuous crescendo, and a brilliant melding of Vali and Bogdan’s vocals. A song which I think will become quite haunting.
  • In your eyes- charming song. In concert, the vocals on the chorus are a little more raw, which would’ve put the song over the top. Still, the song makes me want to waltz while weeping, for some reason. Could be the guitar solos.
  • Spacegirl- kinda really awesome. The chorus sticks to you and you’ll find yourself wailing like Bogdan when you least expect it.
  • Attracted (to people who look like us)- whenever I heard this song in concert I thought the chorus said “I still love you baby/ I just wanna have sex/ With somebody else” (Instead of “Raise your voice baby/ I just wanna…”. Makes more sense to me that way, and a feeling I think we can all relate from time to time. One of my faves from the album though, makes me jump & dance & stuff.
  • Fingerprints- I’m a sucker for growers (that’s what she said). Rammstein’s Amour, A Perfect Circle’s Magdalena, 90% of post-rock, you name it, if it starts up slowly and builds up to an explosive end, I’m all over that shit. When I first heard this song, at the Panikon launch concert in 2008 in Bistrita, as far as I know, it was the first time the band ever played the song. And it was a grower. Between the slow, atmospheric start and the sob-while-pounding-your-fist ending (that’s 10 degrees over a pull-your-hair-from-your-head ending) there was a build-up part that made the end even more agonizing because you knew it was coming, but you had to wait to sob and pound your fists. There were about 20-30 people in the audience, but I don’t think anyone who witnessed what I had witnessed wasn’t at least a bit shaken by the song. Now, it’s just the beginning and the end. Fortunately, it’s such a powerful song that it can still bring you in the worst of depressions. Vali’s vocals towards the end are the embodiment of emotion and anguish. You know those albums that once they’re finished you just want silence so you can gather your thoughts and think “Wtf just happened”? Fingerprints makes Egretta one of those albums.

There are several other songs on the album, which I skipped reviewing. I don’t skip them when playing the album. They’re not bad songs, I don’t think there’s one bad song on the album, it’s just that I don’t know exactly what to say about them.

I’ve listened to Panikon again today for comparison. The thing which struck me the most was how raw it was. Bogdan’s vocals are more raw (in a bad way – he’s always had an amazing voice, but you can see he’s come a long way since then), the compositions are more raw, but the raw which Egretta lacks are in the guitars. My god, those sound like rock guitars, and that’s one of the things which would’ve made it awesome-er. Also, Panikon has tons of bass guitar, and that too helps in an alt rock band. Titus has very few moments to shine, and that’s a pity.

I’ve rambled enough, I guess. Is Egretta a game-changer? Nah. Is it a good album? Hell yes. It’s a very good album, so good that it’s annoying that it falls just a little short of “insanely awesome”, like all recent Romanian albums. And the worst part? I can’t put my finger on exactly what makes it not insanely awesome (other than the small quips I’ve noted above). I know the band has it in them. Every Grimus concert is an occasion to rediscover the power of music.

I guess the album is marked by the questions that open it:

Where do I go from here?
Am I afraid of heights?

Mihai Chereji

Twenty-something web-dev & part-time self-saboteur with no sense of direction on the street or in life. Will write when bored, about music, programming, civic duties etc. @croncobaurul

Romania

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