Listen to the last song of the album French Ghetto by the instrumental trio, Strawberry Girls, and let it transition into the first track of their newest one, American Graffiti. The cosmic melody that carries out “Do Peace” concludes the first effort and then begins the follow-up record. Clever girls.
Somewhere within that snippet of celestial sound bridging the albums, Zac Garren, Ben Rosett and Ian Edward Jennings realized all the potential they displayed on their debut release. The sophomore full-length and first with Tragic Hero Records has all the hallmarks of a matured band: the instrumentation tightened while the sonic scope broadened, the production grew crisper, the music layered and fully realized.
Strawberry Girls prioritized crafting music that is heavier, more energetic, and swathed with more infectious groove than anything they’ve done before—all without the over-caffeinating one might expect from a branch of the Dance Gavin Dance tree. Take the cassette switch at the beginning of “Spanish Bay” for example. Where French Ghetto would over-indulge in this found sound, on American Graffiti the moment is concise, serves its purpose of distinguishing the song to come, and lets the band cut right in with brain enema-inducing guitar shredding. No wandering. No distractions. Fork is aimed straight for the proggy, psychedelic-tiered cake.
As mentioned, the record begins where the previous left off, carrying the intensity and aggression of French Ghetto’s most fortifying output. Garren, Rosett and Jennings come full throttle on the title track, pummeling the guts out of their instruments and laying the ground rules for the next hour. This is a group hell-bent on proving they are more than a jam band. Single, “Volcano Warship”, featuring soaring croons by guest vocalist Sarah Glass, experiments in tropes of metalcore with its dark, stadium-anthem beginning and ear-bursting breakdown while “Antiquation” straps listeners to a foundry conveyor belt and slowly carries them to a cauldron of fire gurgling with biting palm mutes and fierce distortion. The intensity and fervor is reminiscent of a cut from Thrice’s The Alchemy Index Vol I: Fire, showing the band at their most aggressive to date.
Writing heavy music isn’t the only way to show growth, however. Rather than feign maturation and devote all 13 tracks to broodiness, as countless bands have done, Strawberry Girls display their music prowess through versatility and inventiveness. Moments of diversity abound. The beginning of “Violent Night” contains a luscious little guitar lick dripping with delay as the bass and drums play off each other to create a sexy introduction and abrupt departure from cathartic opener. The band stretches out on “Gospel”, the first of four songs with guest vocals. At over six and a half minutes, it’s the longest of 13 tracks despite supporting singer Joey Lancaster with a straightforward pop-structure for the first two-plus minutes. What follows is a bombardment of spastic noodling and musical interplay that unfolds with the stamina of a boxing match.
Where French Ghetto felt like a one-ring circus with Garren’s guitar as the main draw, here Rosett and Jennings prove they are more than mere side attractions. They make “Egypt” their baby with Jennings’ bass providing the song’s backbone and Rosett sprawling all over the drum kit across the many changing sections. The two combine for a guttural, Primus-inspired thunder roll at the 40-second point that marks one of the best moments on the record. To be sure, “Egypt” is a microcosm of the cohesion the group has developed. Every section of every composition feels like it was slogged over by all three musicians.
In a time when bands are parroting their influences without covering their tracks, Strawberry Girls display the versatility and foresight to experiment across genres while concocting a novel album worthy of end-of-the-year lists. American Graffiti leverages careful restrain and focus to make each song stand out as a unique composition while interlocking with one another to achieve excellent ebb and flow. The result is an album that is consistently refreshing and never exhausting, slowly revealing new layers with each listen—a telling sign of a band in full bloom.
by Kevin Sterne
Kevin Sterne is a writer and journalist with a passion for music, art and creative perspectives. He lives in Chicago and is earning an M.A. in Writing but mostly thinks the English cannon is for douches. The best concert he’s been to was Sufjan Stevens at Eaux Claires. Follow him on Twitter @kevinsterne or read more of his work here: www.kevinsterne.com