Grails: “Deep Politics,” Heavy on the Strings (Review)

Deep Politics
Temporary Residence Ltd.

A common (mis)perception in pop music is that the inclusion of a string section inherently softens the edges of a band’s sound. On their past couple of LPs, Portland instrumental rock group Grails has confounded this notion, keeping propulsive rhythms in the mix of their already eclectic palette while deftly incorporating copious amounts of strings. One of the bands founding members was a violinist, so the presence of solo strings in Grails’ music is not new to longtime listeners, but composer-performer Tim Harris’ layers his stringed-instrument performances on Deep Politics in such a way as to give the impression that a larger cohort is playing. And through the magic of mixing, the strings are able to hold their own against percussion, vociferous guitar outbursts, and copious analog synth textures (including some lovely vintage Mellotron parts).

In addition to unabashedly reveling in these walls of sound, the band also channels European film music, particularly the work of Ennio Morricone, providing a new and unexpected twist. It’s not every day one hears heavily thrumming riffs such as those on “Future Primitive” and “All the Colors of the Dark” pitted on the same album against the exotic lyricism and tasty keyboard work found on “Daughters of Bilitis” or the post-psych rock jamming of “Almost Grew my Hair” (quite a knowing reference!).

In lesser hands, such disparate strands might seem too extravagantly far flung to cohere. But under the potently creative attentions of Grails, this eclecticism creates a marvelously well-rounded and imaginative sound world and spurs some of their most interesting work to date.

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