A Tale of Two Bands: Desiree Weber reviews Grand Archives
March 7, 2008 at 7th Street Entry
Review by Desiree Weber
Photos by Daniel Corrigan
If you follow indie rock news with much frequency, you probably know the story: Seattle’s indie darlings Carissa’s Wierd, who never made it big despite released three albums of lush, heartbreaking folk-pop, broke up in 2003. Carissa’s bandmates Ben Bridwell and Mat Brooke went on to form Band of Horses, quickly becoming critically acclaimed and popular (even opening for the likes of Modest Mouse).
Grand Archives. More photos by Daniel Corrigan here.
But if you were never a Carissa’s Wierd fan, you probably didn’t think much of Brooke’s early departure from Band of Horses (if it registered on your radar at all). With all due respect to Birdwell and his Horses, BoH never really lived up to the hopes of diehard Carissa’s Wierd fans for what its members’ next project could be. Brooke was, along with Jen Ghetto, the voice and, to many, the heart of CW. Thus buzz spread quickly, particularly among the Carissa’s-faithful, with news last year of Brooke’s new band, Grand Archives, and their four-song demo.
Consider yourself caught up.
If you don't follow indie rock news, have never heard of Carissa's Wierd, and are wondering what happened to the City Pages copy editor (don't worry, it's spelled wrong on purpose), I’ll be explicit: it’s pretty much impossible to listen to Grand Archives outside the context of Brooke’s prior work. For a guy whose last band penned songs with titles like “Sophisticated F--- Princess Please Leave Me Alone,” “You Should be Hated Here,” and, simply, “Die,” seeing Brooke stroll onto the Entry’s stage Friday night wearing an ear-to-ear grin and a harmonica, and then hearing the band launch in to the positively jubilant “Miniature Birds” (which prominently features whistling) was, well, different.
With an album’s worth of material to draw from and the second spot on the night’s bill, the band’s concise set ran through the highlights of their eponymous debut record. Second in the setlist was album-opener “Torn Blue Foam Couch,” which begins with Brooke’s wispy vocals over gently strummed acoustic guitar, but quickly ventures to altogether different sonic territory, upping the tempo and the volume to a boisterous crescendo.
Grand Archives reward close listening: the songs are multi-layered and reveal new facets and complexities with each listen. Most bands of whom this could be said struggle to translate this complexity into a live set, but Grand Archives succeed. With three guitarists (two of whom also play auxiliary percussion), and three vocalists, the band shines at letting the give-and-take between its members take precedence over any individual, displayed best in the vocal interplay of “Index Moon” and “Sleepdriving”. Yet, they also know how to come together for in an athemic whole (witness the call-and-response vocals over a staccato bassline in “Louis Riel,” or the entire crowd clapping in unison to set-closer “The Crime Window”).
Friday’s show was about getting to know Brooke in an all-new context. While I have to admit that “Sleepdriving” is likely my favorite song of theirs in no small part because it echoes Brooke’s work in Carissa’s Wierd, I also think it stands on its own terms as one of the better indie-rock singles of the year to date. In a live setting, Grand Archives looks and sounds like a band that’s just beginning to gel as a cohesive whole, and is genuinely excited to be playing together. They’ll never be Carissa’s Wierd 2.0, but that’s probably for the best. Watching Brooke chart new musical realms shows the growth of a talented, albeit shy, songwriter and frontman. Keep an eye on this band; if their first album and their live show are any indication, they’re likely to build up quite the archive of their own. -- Desiree Weber