a revelation -- dynamic, hooky, energetic!
The '90s indie rock lashings of Grooms, add a
reminder to dust off your Polvo/SY LPs
...some of the most exciting new sounds the
Kings County has to offer."
Having lived, worked, and created in the ever evolving Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn for over a
decade, native Texan Travis Johnson has felt the direct impact of the growth and dissolution that comes
with rapid gentrification. His band Grooms practiced, and recorded at Brooklyn's Death By Audio for
seven years (first as Muggabears, then as Grooms) before they were forced out of their spiritual and
literal home in November 2014 when DBA shut its doors. A little over a year before, with the band's
income not providing enough money to support any of its members, bass player and co-writer Emily
Ambruso went on hiatus from the band, leaving Johnson as the only original member. Despite these
unfortunate blows, Johnson soldiered on, soon recruiting Jay Heiselmann on bass, and actor/comedian
Steve Levine on drums.
After months of experimenting with sound collages, samples, and electronic beats, the band recorded an
obsessively detailed and melodically complex album, with a heavy focus on mood and texture. Unlike
their previous album Infinity Caller (which Speedy Ortiz's Sadie Dupuis called ...an exercise in explosion
and restraint hallmarked by sweeping guitars, stuttery drums, and cryptic, airy vocals...) many of the
songs on Comb... bring the band's rhythm section to the fore, and Johnson's trademark guitar stylings
often take a backseat to his psychedelic sample-collages and ambient electronics. Fortunately the new
approach works, balancing pop structures with masterful experimental production that shifts in tone and
color in harmony with Johnson's tales of acceptance, loneliness, and impotent violence.
On Comb..., that violence is most evident on Something Wild, a song about destroying the high-priced
waterfront condos that contribute to the rising cost of living in neighborhoods like Williamsburg and
Greenpoint, and then feeling conflicted about it. Love is the subject matter on Bed Version (a song
which Johnson describes as a fantasy about seeing the joy in my girlfriend's face as she realizes she's
not cosmically alone.), and the album becomes wistful on Cross Off (a remembrance and longing for
the good old days when Ambruso was still an active member of the band), but even on these songs
Levine's alternately Krautrock and Elvin Jones-inspired drums, and Heiselmann's propulsive bass help to
maintain the album's intense atmosphere. Album standouts like Comb the Feelings Through Your Hair
and Doctor M deliver head-bobbing pop hooks as Johnson ponders his long-term struggle with
addiction, while other songs, Savage Seminar, Will the Boys?, and Grenadine Scene from Inside,
explore the thoughts, and feelings of fictional characters in the films Magnolia, Lost Boys, and Steel
Whether singing from a fictional or personal perspective, Johnson's songs on Comb... are all loosely
about letting go of bitterness and resentment. Like the Brooklyn neighborhood where he lives and works,
his internal real estate is constantly being reevaluated, razed, and rebuilt. Fortunately his personal
growth has yielded an album that attentive listeners will find relatable and consistently rewarding.
1. Bed Version
2. Comb The Feelings Through Your Hair
3. Cross Off
4. Something Wild
5. Doctor M
6. Half Cloud
7. Will the Boys?
8. Savage Seminar
9. Grenadine Scene From Inside
10. Foster Sister
11. Later A Dream