ALBUM REVIEW: PUBLIC PRACTICE – GENTLE GRIP (WHARF CAT RECORDS)
2/5 – ‘Sounds at best like a demo with potential, or if not, a facsimile of a better band”
‘Gentle Grip‘ is the debut album from Public Practice. A post new wave group from Brooklyn, following up their critically acclaimed EP ‘Distance In A Mirror’ (2018). An intriguing project that left me with some hope for the bands debut. Primarily playing with riffs from disco and funk genres, and merging them with politically charged lyrics. Similarly with Gentle Grip’s lead single ‘Compromised’, in which I found them moving a little towards the sound of their more ambitious contemporaries. Mainly in the sporadic bassline. Merged in again with politically charged lyrics. ‘You don’t want to pick a side. You don’t want to compromise’. Parquet Courts for one comes to mind (a group the band supported recently). With all that said, the album doesn’t progress much further. Sounding at best like a demo with potential, or if not, a facsimile of a better band. Leaving my relationship with the four at square one.
One of these moments is ‘Cities’. A track that reminds me of The Talking Heads. The lyrics take a robotic view of urban landscapes and building structures. Maybe it’s a jab at society (though it’s never uncovered) from a post-apocalyptic standpoint. The track is filled with miniscule details in robotic sentences. The opening lines are ‘Green grass leading to barren squares. Fences holding what we manifest’ . Instrumentally the band channel their influence as much. The looped production quality focuses more on single riffs than anything, ‘Remain In Light‘ style. Despite a changeup mid way through the track it stays in this formula religiously. Not to mention the chiptuned sounds that pop in and out. They are peppy, though remind me more than anything of ‘Born Under Punches’. It’s enjoyable, but certainly isn’t pushing the envelope the way The Talking Heads were. While it’s hard to push boundries these days. It is one thing taking influence and another to replicate.
Then there is ‘Disposable’. Probably the completest sounding song here. The rhythm guitars jaggedly jump against the funk leaden bass, sounding on the verge of moving into no wave territory. Something I wish the band dived full speed into. It would accelerate this track from being an enjoyable enough new wave song to an interesting bit of experimentation. Though a little undersold, I enjoy the lyrical wordplay. Hereby moving the track to a higher rank in my books. Frontwoman Sam York constantly compares her relationship to ‘the undertow’ of water. Here’s a drinking game (no pun intended): Take a shot every time water is mentioned on this album. It is a lot. Be warned. Admittedly most lines are no where near as good as on this track. York could do well to get lectured by T.S. Eliot (risen from the dead) or Joanna Newsom who use(d) water symbolism 100 times better.
Similar themes of toxic relationships come up on ‘Each Other’ where York describes a lover trying to make excuses to hide their alibi. I wonder how invested York is in her relationship when listening to this. She sounds more like a robot than a human with feelings. Never really changing her tone. There’s not much to write home about instrumentally that hasn’t been said already. It’s very bass heavy with some jagged, repetitious guitars. The chorus vocals provide the only new thing. A punky, low timbre, doubletracked vocal that reminds me of The Slits. York repeats ‘Choose Each Other. Lose The Other‘ almost hypnotically. Still I’m on the fence with this one.
A few moments take more ambitions approaches that I appreciate them for trying. ‘Moon’ is a spoken word piece smothered in reverb. Lyrically about wanting to see the moon up close, and remain comfortable in a rocket (I think). It is impossible to decipher, and the lyrics don’t stick enough for them to paint pictures. The track is backed by a very weak synth bassline, sounding like it was played on an obnoxious kids toy. The awkward, over compressed drums don’t help. The snare sounds more like a burst of white noise than a snare. A mistake i’ve only heard executed on David Bowie’s ‘Low‘ album (track – ‘Sound and Vision’). They repeat this ‘spoken word’ idea on ‘See You When’. Unfortunately still not cutting the cake. Instead feeling awkward and unfinished. The skeletal chorus is backed by York making some percussive noises with her mouth. Not once is this explained in the lyrics, and makes the track feel amateur.
It’s moments like ‘My Head’ that spiral the album into weaker territory still. This sounds like a badly dated Bananarama track. The church bells and cheesy disco strings don’t do many favours for the group. A track like ‘Understanding’ feels less concise still. The band takes up (almost) 5 minutes to support my qualms. It’s chorus of ‘Ah ah ah ah ah’ takes up the majority of the track. A kind of worrying lack of steam for a debut album. ‘Leave Me Alone’ features a similar, repetitious and undercooked approach. The bassline sludges about awkwardly while a spontaneous lyric of ‘Leave Me Alone. That’s All I Want’ is repeated .
Unfortunately my mind starts trailing off before the mid point on these tracks, and many others, leaving little to admire. The tracks that work are good, but nothing too special.