Experimental trio Growing evolves on the dance floor
The recorded output of the Brooklyn-based experimental trio Growing is a testament to the deliberate misuse of musical instruments. For the first five years he owned his Korg Electribe-R drum machine, for instance, band bassist and guitarist Kevin Doria pretty much ignored its core functionality, variously employing it as an amplifier, a sequencer, and an effects box. Last year, the multi-instrumentalist figured he'd try something novel—he started using the device to make actual drum loops. Those rhythm tracks form the basis of this year's PUMPS!, which manages to be the band's the most conventional and alien-sounding album to date.
How does it manage this weird duality? Well, PUMPS! marks the first time Growing has employed beats throughout an album, a sturdy foundation that tethers Doria and bandmate Joe DeNardo's trademark swirling guitars and hallucinatory textures. But if the beats give the music a familiar momentum, the rest of the disc's arrangements are more chaotic and otherworldly than ever. Where Growing's first five studio LPs found the group consciously attempting to recreate environmental sounds—whether the rush of a windstorm or of freeway traffic—this one plays like the soundtrack to a debauched Martian discotheque.
“That landscape or environmental stuff—it's definitely something we're not as interested in doing anymore,” says Doria, reached on the road in Detroit. “It's not because we think it's dumb or stupid, but because it's something we've done so many times. Part of the fun of this band is to keep trying things we've never tried, and taking things we've learned and trying them out in a whole new context.”
Growing's change of direction is due in part to the addition of a new member, Sadie Laska, who contributes chanted vocals, lysergic samples, and a general sense of franticness to the group's sound.
“It's changed the way we do pretty much everything,” says Doria of his new bandmate's influence. “It's been energizing. It takes a lot of pressure off Joe and I. We can really focus on our parts because we're only doing one thing at a time as opposed to trying to do everything at once. In that sense, she brings a little bit more focus but oftentimes, because the pressure is not there, also a lot more recklessness.”
That sensibility is especially evident on the new album's final track, “Mind Eraser”, an eight-minute epic that features Laska's multitracked vocals evoking a freaky hall-of-mirrors effect, her various utterances sped-up and screwed-down over a synthetic motorik beat. It's a song unlike any other Growing has ever made, says Doria, a risky move for a band whose fans expect headphone music, not dance numbers.
“The reaction to the new material's been all over the board,” he admits. “Generally, people tend to really love it or really hate it. I take a little bit of comfort in that; affecting people in that extreme way is a good litmus test for art.”
Growing plays the Biltmore Cabaret tonight (April 22).