Growing – PUMPS!

Growing - PUMPS!

Growing - PUMPS!

Transitional albums – you know them, and you even love some of them. Flirting with new sounds and styles while maintaining the artist’s original voice, sometimes they’re only recognizable long after the fact, and other times they give the feeling of something awesome just around the corner. Dismissing an album as transitional is a common strategy pulled from a critic’s bag of easy tricks. The intelligible and stable are usually privileged over the exploratory and restless. Rarely is it suggested that transition is worthy of praise.

Unfortunately for Growing, the key to understanding their oeuvre is the fact that each and every one of their albums is transitional. Their new full-length, PUMPS!, is no exception, and takes them the farthest away from their starting point that they’ve ever been. While it might be difficult for the uninitiated listener to tell that Slanted and Enchanted and Wowee Zowee were both written and recorded by the same band, given enough exposure to Pavement’s back catalog it would start to make sense. However, there’d be no way in hell for anybody to know that Growing are responsible for The Sky’s Run Into the Sea and PUMPS! just by listening to them. It’s still hard to believe even if you’ve followed them for years.

Even so, unlike bands who are eclectic style-masters – Beck and Yo La Tengo come to mind as extreme examples – Growing’s trajectory has been continuous, even logical. After parting ways with their drummer in what turns out was still their early going, the duo of Joe Denardo and Kevin Doria slowly incorporated more rhythm into their playing and started working with layering techniques to make their sound wider. The shit really hit the fan with Color Wheel’s wobbling and splintering disintegrations. Here the band set sail into uncharted territory, subjecting their pleasant compositions to a prism of effects which made their music unpredictable, colorful, and corporeal. They still spun glorious soundscapes, but did so in a way that the majority of folks were too lazy to do: with constant attention to detail, development, and musicianship. Each album took this fracturing momentum one step further, pushing the deconstruction of melody and timbre into alien lands, until their last album, All the Way, contained a centerpiece which was built around a an actual pulsing robotic beat. Which finally brings us to PUMPS!

Sadie Laska, a new full-time member, brings samples, voice, and beats to every track. Growing as a trio bump and bang, reprising their old low end blanket in the form of a hypnotic rumble. The treble sounds retain much of the kaleidoscopic staccato, self-propulsion, and shapeshifting mastered over their previous four releases, but with the addition of voices cut up, pitchshifted, and otherwise grotesquely morphed. This voice fuckery, strange as it is, brings these tracks closer to Earth, and is most effective on epic final track “Mind Eraser” where it’s the focal point, mixing a stew of samples into a seriously warped statement on how the unpredictability of sonic manipulations can be way more far out than strict adherence to a lifestyle of drug use.

Instead of developing with the rest of the music, the simple beats hold their patterns tightly, lending a grounding absent from Growing’s music for a good while. Sometimes the music even sounds head-noddingly dance-y in a strangely mechanical way. “Massive Dropout” has a quickly shuffling beat that sounds like something that would get a robot dancing alone at home and is reminiscent of the most recent Boredoms grooves, not to mention the goofy elfin vocals from Black Dice’s Beaches and Canyons. “Camera ‘84” shares the same rushing speediness but is filled with a strangely bubbly krautrock vibe. Come to think of it, this whole album reminds me of the spirit of 70’s nonconformists Can – especially their shuffling 1973 album Future Days – more than any other album I’ve heard in recent memory, albeit at a higher tempo and intensity level. There’s a current pulling it all along, a punchy groove that keeps it anchored, and a no holds barred attitude which allows for the inclusion of just about anything into the mix. That it never sounds difficult is testament to Growing’s facilities as musicians, and let’s you see what Black Dice would sound like if they acknowledged people were listening.

Trying to isolate moments on PUMPS! proves fairly fruitless, though. It’s a totally immersive experience, best approached with trust and surrender. A band like Growing proves their artistic intent not through any sort of easily achieved signifiers or gear tricks, but through a commitment to exploration and an unwillingness to stabilize. Unlike most other bands that are busy being something, Growing are doing something. They may never sit still, but PUMPS! represents another enduring snapshot of curious artists in perpetual motion.


Vice Music