Album Review | The Shouting Matches – Grownass Man
The Shouting Matches – Grownass Man
Label: Middle West
About the Band: The Shouting Matches are a bluesy/soul/rock trio comprised of Phil Cook (Megafaun), Brian Moen (Peter Wolf Crier) and Justin Vernon (Bon Iver). The band made their debut performance this year at Cochella, but it’s unclear whether the band is planning a tour to support the record. I’d say it’s unlikely.
You’ll like it if..you like the Black Keys and are ready to expand your horizons into some moderately different gritty white-boy blues/lo-fi/rock.
Avoid if…you’re expecting Justing Vernon to coo you to sleep with his beautiful falsetto while dreamy folk tunes wash over you. With the exception of a few high vocal lines, Vernon channels a growling blues shout on Grownass Man. And in place of Bon Iver’s meticulously crafted folk is loud garage rock chaos with some old soul thrown in for good measure.
About the Album: Most people will discover this record because they know and love Vernon from his work from Bon Iver. Well get ready for shock, freak folk lovers because Grownass Man marks a drastic departure from Vernon’s Bon Iver albums. This record is essentially a loud blues-tinged garage rock outing featuring a rowdy power trio. The music is raw, loose and the songs sound as if they were recorded in one take in Vernon’s garage after pounding a few High Life’s. That’s not necessarily a bad thing since the result is a fun record that doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s obvious these guys were going for a live vibe and they captured it perfectly.
Musically, cool vintage guitar, and bass tones are present throughout, and occasionally some distorted harmonica (‘Heaven Knows’, ‘Three Dollar Bill’), or a B3 (‘Gallup, NM ‘New Theme’) will make an appearance to help round out the band’s vintage sound. Although blues is the foundation, the band mostly steers away from the tired 12 bar blues form, and like most classic soul songs (the albums other major influence) the tunes are concise and devoid of the endless noodling that often plagues modern blues records. Even so, some songs overstayed their welcome like ‘New Theme‘ which features a lackluster B3 solo in the outro and ‘Three Dollar Bill’ where the majority of the song is a harmonica solo supported only by drums, and distorted bass.
Although the relaxed feel works well, where this album goes wrong is in its songwriting. I can understand the live loose production style, but that attitude shouldn’t carry over to the songwriting as well. Unfortunately thats exactly what happens and more than a few songs sound like they were just thrown together and recorded in the same night. For example ‘Milkman’ is an instrumental that essentially repeats a tired gospel tinged melody over and over for 3:20. ‘Seven Sisters’, a song that barrows heavily from 60’s motown, ends with a repeated series of fantastic unique guitar chords, but instead of building on the outro and taking the song out of “soul rip off” territory, it just sort of ends abruptly. It’s like the band just gave up on finishing the song.
The album work best when it channels some intense emotions and a few songs are extremely effective to that end. ‘Heaven Knows’ is a heavy, sludgy tune with distorted harmonica and vocals that sound like they were recorded out of some old radio that just can’t handle what Vernon’s layin’ down. The song and captures some great raw angst and emotion. ‘Mother, When?’, the closest the band comes to a straight ahead blues, is the most effective at capturing the emotion and energy of a live performance. Drums and B3 plow the the song forward, and by the end Vernon is nearly screaming.
At the end of the album you’re tempted to say, “well I can’t believe it, but Vernon actually pulled it off,” and unfortunately I think that was the band’s goal. This is more of an opportunity for Vernon and friends to have some fun, and prove that they’re capable of doing a stylistic 180. And in that sense they did a great job. Unfortunately, when the focus is narrowed and the band member’s past outing aren’t considered, what you’re left with is a lackluster blusey/soul record that seems comfortable with just getting by.
Favorite song: ‘Gallup, NM’ It’s the least bluesy, and instead channels Neil Young and Crazy Horse. The song features a very cool guitar solo where Neil’s influences are present and perfect for the song. Runner up: ‘Mother, When?’
Least Favorite song: ‘Three Dollar Bill’ really just seems like filler. Pretty much just harmonica, distorted bass and drums. A few distorted vocals are thrown in as well, but they don’t add much. This song serves as an example why there aren’t many bass, drums, harmonica trios.
Favorite Lyrics: Its not a lyric driven album but ‘Mother, When?’ is the winner. It seems to be about a mother’s drinking problem that eventually kills her. Here’s the third verse:
Mama’s seeing double and she falling down
Don’t you know it, she done fell through to the cold, cold ground
The flies are on the table, place is covered in dust
Empty trailer, empty bottle, I’ll be gone by dusk
Least Favorite Lyric: ‘I need a change’. The last verse seems pretty thrown together, but again since this album isn’t lyric focused, poorly written lyrics aren’t as obvious.
Well you treat me kind
And you need my mind
But I still need a change from you
And I don’t know the reasons why
And I’m so damn sick and tired
So I’ll say it one last time
Bottom Line: Yes they proved were capable of pulling a style switch-a-roo, but what they didn’t do is create a great record that can of stand on its own despite the band members past work . But it’s fun, has some good songs, and is definitely worth a few listens. STREAM IT.