Originally published for The 405.
With Hung at Heart set to be The Growlers‘ breakthrough album, rumours were afloat of the band participating in recording sessions with The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach. However, it was quickly decided that things weren’t working out and the band went back to basics, recording it alone in Costa Mesa, California. The official statement from the label stated that Auerbach “tried his hand in the kitchen but when the dish ended up overcooked, the Growlers brought it back to the home kitchen, drank the juice and started over.” It is unlikely that the album would have the same compelling effect had Auerbach produced it, as I expect it would have ended up sounding too stadium-ready for the band, who clearly do not produce music on the same sort of scale.
Hung at Heart combines a number of genres which the band have become associated with on their previous efforts, namely psychedelic, garage and surf rock, but also draws influence from country and pop, highlighting the developments in their song writing. Lead single ‘Someday’ is not exactly telling of what to expect from the rest of the album but is an infectious pop song, telling a story of better days to come. It’s one of those songs that could make the gloomiest of days seem a bit brighter, with its surf-y melody and lyrics like “Well things ain’t so cool right now / Well, I promise they’ll get better.”
On the other hand, tracks like ‘Naked Kids’ and ‘Salt on a Slug’ show more of the straight psych-rock elements of the band and fall perfectly in to what I like to refer to as ‘sounds of the Mojave’ (i.e. my imaginary playlist of songs for my ever-pending American road trip). They are a showcase in what the perfect psych-rock song should contain: wistful guitar riffs, heavy organs, distorted vocals and plenty of reverb. The band continue their psych-rock experimentation with the use of Eastern instrumentation on ‘Burden of the Captain’, which has a brief but fantastic sitar solo.
The one thing that sets the album apart from your typical psych-rock record, however, is the sadness of some of the lyrical content. The country-tinged ‘Living in a Memor'” has some of the most poignant lyrics, with lead singer Brooks Nielsen baring his soul about an ex he is struggling to get over: “Help me forget her / Eclipse my heart from yours / Help me remember that life’s worth living for.” Melancholy may not be a theme typically associated with psych-rock but the inclusion of these songs give the album a bit more balance and show a different side to the band, which we haven’t seen much of previously.
It’s a little-known fact that most garage bands are heavily influenced by girl groups and the band make their influences pretty clear on ‘Pet Shop Eyes’, of which the melody is almost identical to that of The Donays’ hit ‘Devil in His Heart’ – you may be more aware of The Beatles’ version ‘Devil In Her Heart’. The similarity also comes as a result of the authenticity of the production on the track, making it sound like it could easily have been released in the 60s. It proves just how much the band have moved on in the production stakes from their previous albums, which was at times a bit rough around the edges.
With psych-rock revivalist bands cropping up on both sides of the Atlantic, The Growlers are just one of many having to prove their worth as ones to watch. They have managed to evolve their brand of psych-rock over the past few years and have produced a much fuller, more diverse sounding record in the process. It seems going back to basics worked out pretty well for The Growlers.