Grass House sheathes the comfort of weathered Americana in glittery space-rock atmospherics. Modest, monochrome melodies weave through cavernous reverbed spaces, whiskery poetics are murmured as dual guitars vault up and away in rattling blurs. The four piece, native to Yorkshire but now living in London, has drawn comparisons to various baritone indie folk (Nick Cave, Tom Waits, Matt Berninger of the National), but to me, the singer, Liam Palmer, sounds like a younger, less damaged Shane McGowan, muttering bleak abstractions but softening the edges with a Northern burr.
This is Grass House’s first album though singles “Spinning as We Turn” and “And Now for the Wild” got the band a certain amount of attention earlier this year. Both have been reshaped for the full-length, adding weight and heft and clarity. “And Now for the Wild” starts in restrained, a chink of closed cymbals, a steady chant of vocals, the main bit of color coming from the way that one guitar dives in from the corners, swooping over the main picked riff and then spinning off again. Palmer’s voice beautifully deep, hollowed out and cracked like old leather, the melody modest, settled, comfortable and entirely without pyrotechnic leaps or odd turns. Yet as it goes on, the song builds layered textures, a high vibrating guitar tone, the rumble of malleted toms, the hint of altered vocals. It’s a song that reaches high and strikes towards ecstasy, while also acknowledging the risk of a fall. Says Palmer, “Though Icarus he made mistakes, we’ll bind our wings with stronger tape, we’ll fill our heads with empty space, and now for the wild.”
Lyrics on this album are dense, abstract, arresting but not quite readable, strings of words that sound good until you try to make sense of them. “Come with fruit peel, come with bags of leaves, tantalizing finger strokes and green limousines,” Palmer urges in “Faun,” one of the disc’s best, conjuring simultaneously the clarity and detail of a Dutch still life, the surreal nonsense of a Dali painting. The new single has the taffy-stretching reality of a fever dream, as Palmer imagines himself first a streetlight, then a phone booth. It has the album’s catchiest melody, but what, if anything, could it possibly mean? And yet, the good lines are remarkable. “The world will make cuckolds of us all.” “Keep a good half of your face behind a veil to play it safe.” Palmer luxuriates in words, spitting them out in multi-syllabled, ambiguous tangles, shades them with charcoal cross-hatchings of submerged emotion, and leaves us, finally, to make sense of them. Or not.
Yet even at its most opaque, Sun Full and Drowning connects subliminally, with its deep reassurances of folk-rock melody, its shimmering, vibrating intersections of interstellar guitar, its grand sonic spaces. You don’t need to know exactly what’s going on or what everything means to be carried along. Sometimes it’s best just to let it go.
DOWNLOAD: “Faun” “I Was a Street Light” “And Now the Wild”