Every once in a while, a band just finds their sound. For Grayscale, this came in the form of the single “In Violet”, a song that stood out against the rest of their album Nella Vita. Although the album itself was stellar, there is a magic to “In Violet”. The song is a vortex of moody melodies and dark lyrical subject matter that swirls around a joyful chorus and the swelling of celebratory horns. For their newest album, Umbra, Grayscale have fully leaned into the ideas that gave birth to “In Violet”. The results of this is an album that is over-the-top, stylish, fun and arguably unlike anything else currently in the scene.
For Umbra, Grayscale have thrown everything at what made “In Violet” stand out at each song. In a way, it almost sounds overwhelming. There are extensive saxophone solos (“Motown”), gospel choruses (“Live Again”), glitzy guitar solos (“Dirty Bombs”) and songs that include literally all of the above (”Without You”). While these elements could easily be overdone, they’re presented in a way that sounds modernly creative as well as like a long-forgotten soundtrack to an 80’s blockbuster. Simply put, Umbra is exciting because it seems like almost anything can appear throughout the album’s 11 tracks.
What ties these elements together and reigns them in is a retro-style guitar, courtesy of guitarists Dallas Molster and Andrew Kyne. Opener “Without You” carries a heavy vibe reminiscent of Rick Astley. However, much like “In Violet”, the energetic music hides the bitter lyrical subject matter. Amidst the roaring saxophone and guitar solos, vocalist Collin Walsh sings about the freedom he feels after leaving a toxic relationship (“How could I find love in a car crash? / I was pinned down with my hands back / I’m finally without you”).
Bassist Nick Ventimiglia stands out most during the quieter moments (“Carolina Skies”), while percussionist Nick Veno finds a healthy restraint amidst the melody of songs, and switches up from a heavily produced sound (“Motown”), to what seems to be some nostalgic gated reverb (“Babylon (Say It To My Face)”).
Walsh’s vocals carry stories of loss and coping with darkness throughout Umbra, such as “King of Everything”, which chronicles the loss of a someone who seems to have left their marriage and friends in a type of mid-life crisis (“Yeah, you’re still a part of me / See the life you threw away, wedding bells and silver rings / No more pain and suffering / So go be the man you want to be”).
Meanwhile, closer “Light” sees Walsh mourning the loss of someone he loves as they pursue their dreams and leaves him stranded in place (“Hearts, they never heal in a straight line / Twelve weeks since you had to go and break mine / Sinking here like a stone / Sad to say, yeah, I know / It’s dark here, spinning deep into my head”).
Umbra seems like too much, sonically, yet it works. Part of this is that all of the extravagant elements on the album are spread out, providing a taste of each from song to song. As such, the album somehow manages to weave an experience of sound that seems more fitting to mainstream pop than indie rock, but fits with the mood of the band. Umbra explores the darkness of relationships and the aftermath that haunts those stuck trying to find a new adventure. “In Violet” seems to have sprung a surge of creativity from Grayscale that heavily influenced this album, and the band is better for it.
by Kyle Schultz
Kyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and is slowly baking in the humidity like a potato. A mighty Idaho potato.