Growing tries on new sounds and stumbles to the dance floor
MUSIC Follow the heavily pitch-shifted, layered vocals woozily intoning "I love drugs" on "Mind Eraser" from Growing's new Pumps (Vice). You'll end up deep in the thicket of the group's hallucinatory haze, levitating on a cockeyed cloud of bird calls, darting beats, and cries of "It's my brain!" Welcome to the Brooklyn band's bristly, growling hoedown, one emulating the sound of the hive mind in a crowded nightclub and pulsing with swooping, strobe-light electronics — though those familiar, whooping party horns refuse to cooperate with any potential dance trance, rarely continuing longer than a few bars.
It's the sound of a band evolving into some creature poised between an art group that inspires its audience to sit on the floor, cross-legged and spaced-out, and a shadowy outfit toiling behind gear as the crowd grinds and undulates in the foreground. Neither fish nor fowl, neither entirely noise nor dance-pop, those dichotomies, false or no, seem to have dissolved with the entry a year and a half ago of new member Sadie Laska of IUD and Extreme Violence. Laska joined Growing's seemingly tight two-man collaboration — Joe DeNardo and Kevin Doria have been making music together since 1999 — after playing with the duo during a Growing-IUD tour. And Pumps is the first album the threesome has made together, working amid piles of effect boxes, synths, drum machines, Optigans, and guitars at Brooklyn's Ocropolis studio.
"It was kind of scary at first for me," Laska says, from the trio's car, while in Seattle. "I didn't know what was going to happen — they didn't seem to have any strict way of doing anything. Instead they were kind of in this place where they wanted a new perspective, new ideas, so they were like, 'Do whatever you want.'<0x2009>"
Laska went ahead and added the new vocal elements and samples, amplifying the subtle humor of tracks like the jittery, antically polyrhythmic "Highlight," which almost suggests a spastic, giggly cousin of the Residents. The wit extends to the title and artwork of the disc, with its 1980s-esque pink lipstick gloss and its pinup girl ready to grotesquely eyeball the viewer.
"The title is supposed to be kind of funny," Laska explains, "and I think the whole record is really light-hearted, which I don't think people get at first." The name directly refers to an instance when Doria's girlfriend was packing a lot of shoes in a box labeled "Pumps." "He was like, 'I hate pumps,'<0x2009>" recalls Laska. "We joked about this being a feminine record, with a girl in the band and this music. After all, we have these beats — we'd say, 'It's pumpin'!'<0x2009>"
That's what happens when you introduce a drum machine into the mix, although that doesn't mean Growing intends to infiltrate clubland. "I think of it as almost a dance record, but not quite," observes Laska. "It's still off-kilter, and maybe you can't dance to it. [Doria and DeNardo] came from a guitar-driven band, and we all come from these punk roots, so none of us grew up going to dance clubs and listening to dance music — that's not what we were trying to make."
Growing is, well, growing — not only in number, but in playful, new elastic directions as the group flips Laska's vocals and fuses them with the beat. "We're maybe more light-hearted," Laska says. "Not that they were super-serious before. But I think now we really want people to have a good time and move around a little bit to it. In some ways we still play a sustained, long set. But now we do have these samples, and it's kind of like ... party music." She chuckles at the absurdity of it. "Like the end-of-the-night kind of party."
With Eric Copeland and Birds and Batteries
Wed/28, 8 p.m., $10–>$12