I don’t remember the last time I was so conflicted in how I felt about an album.
High Times for Low Lives, the new record from Australian indie rock/pop group The Griswolds, takes the band’s slightly pop’identity and runs wild with it. These songs are glossy, catchy and have a lot of production value. As someone who enjoys things a little on the heavier side, it wasn’t quite my cup of tea, and I found myself disinterested and not really engaged in the album as a whole. But you could chalk that point up to pure bias.
So I decided to work against the stigma as much as I could, and give the record a few more spins. After each listen, I discovered something new, something I relatively enjoyed. It’s still pop music, but it is very well-written pop music with incredible production, and avid influence from other genres.
R&B, hip-hop, funk, and even Michael Jackson-style pop come together to create a creative new experimental sound for the band. Seriously, in some of these songs vocalist Chris Whitehall sounds like the king of pop himself. (Though at times he sounds like he is doing an offbeat M.J. impression).
The first song “Role Models” launches right into the bands new sound, with the Jackson-esqe vocal delivery, funky guitar and keyboards, popping baselines and pounding drums. All of this I was able to jam out to. I still think I enjoy the bands sound on their previous album Be Impressive more, but this new change of pace is catchy and engaging.
One key feature of each of the songs on the album is that they all sound great; so many different instruments and genre elements go into each of the songs, and the production quality is top-notch on all of them. Producer Andrew Dawson has done a fantastic job helping the band put this new sound together.
Other great tracks include the single “Out Of My Head” which backtracks to the indie sound of Be Impressive while fusing in the more poppy elements. “Rufio” is a catchy song with laid back beats that bursts into spectacle worth of a Disney musical number, and “Feels so Right” is a funky R&B influenced track with great catchy guitar work.
However, I still found myself not being able to fully be invested in the album. While the aforementioned stand-out tracks are great, the rest of the album is rather forgettable. It sounds good, but not enough of the tracks really stood out to me. And a few did, in not the best way.
Songs like “Birthday” and “YDLM” are just too poppy for me to get into. “Birthday” in particular reminds me too much of Maroon 5, which makes me throw up in my mouth a little bit. Not to insult The Griswolds — it’s about as good as a Maroon 5 style pop song can be and it certainly made me glad I wasn’t listening to the later band. (I really don’t like Maroon 5). Some of it feels all over the place as well. With so many different new elements thrown in, the album doesn’t have enough direction. I think more time needs to be spent refining the sound.
I know the album has a certain personal touch, as a lot of it comes from lead singer Whitehall, and the dark side of fame. He isn’t afraid to paint himself in not the best light over the songs, and I appreciate the investment into the ideas of the album. The band has certainly put in the work to move itself forward by creating something new and taking chances, something I always have respect for.
Overall, this leaves me feeling a bit conflicted about the album. I think other people will justifiably enjoy it a lot more than I did and I hope they do. This is just a sound I can’t totally get myself behind, but it sure does sound good. With more time, I think the band can refine this new sound into something more focused and truly fantastic.
You can check out “High Times For Low Lives” here.
Final Rating: 7/10
Top Tracks: “Role Models,” “Out Of My Head,” “Feels so Right,” “Rufio”
Contact CU Independent Arts Writer Austin Willeke at email@example.com.