CITY CLUB by The Growlers
Genre: Beach Goth
Favorite Tracks: “The Daisy Chain,” “When You Were Made,” “Night Drive”
“Is this even the Growlers?” is the first question one will ask themselves when they listen to CITY CLUB. In fact, this record doesn’t sound like anything a Dana Point, OC Surf Rock champion would want to be associated with, let alone create. In the past, the Growlers have had a wonderfully distinct, endearing “beach rat” sound that should not be thrown away for the ʼ80s synth-drenched, grimy, back-alley sound that is CITY CLUB. This album, produced by the Strokes’ very own Julian Casablancas, doesn’t even sound like the Strokes. This record sounds like somebody trying to be Alex Turner when he was trying to be the Strokes.The complete lack of originality makes this record trash.
Leaving sweet, sun-drenched California and crossing over to vibrant New York City is a large risk for any musician. Switching record labels is also a profound change in the tide. Unfortunately, the Growlers seem to be hypnotized, or perhaps, disillusioned, by New York’s seedy nightclub vibe. Instead of producing a familiar record, or drawing their own inspiration from this journey, CITY CLUB is nothing but borrowed parts from gritty streets on the Bowery. This is not the psychedelic surf group produced by Burger Records. New York has pissed all over the Growlers and the aggression from the city shows. Each song has nearly the same militant, thumping bass line, but the usually charming, lo-fi vocals don’t redeem this cookie-cutter New York club music. The album opens with the namesake single, “City Club,” and peaks right there. Julian Casablancas’s influence is undeniable and obvious: The bored attitude in the vocals borders on arrogance, relying too heavily on a gravelly tone. Too-cool-to-care is a trademark of the Strokes, but this is the Growlers, and with happy lyrics such as “I love her just the way she is / all of her flaws and frizz,” the apathetic voice just sounds wrong. The affectionate charm of the Growlers that stole hearts diminishes under the stronghold of rough and tumble New York.
New York isn’t for everyone: It’s a tough city, unapologetic, fast, and dirty. California isn’t for everyone: It can be too slow, too dull, and too superficial. However, the Growlers’ California roots were not made to withstand the concrete jungle, even with Casablancas’s help. This record sounds like a losing barfight in a forsaken Brooklyn borough, burnt streetlights, and shattered naivete. While it’s good for bands to grow and experiment, the Growlers completely lost their identity with trying a new sound.
When Casablancas himself comes in to lead the chorus on “Rubber and Bone,” it especially sounds like a rip-off of the Strokes. Growling vocals certainly live up to the band’s name, but the nonchalant attitude of Nielsen’s voice has one questioning copyright rules of the Strokes’ trademark disaffection. While CITY CLUB gets points for incorporating new instruments such as xylophones and synths, the authenticity is lost in repeated rhythms. The bulk of any song in this record is a repeated refrain, and “Rubber and Bone” cements the dodgy, neon-light soaked attitude with steady snarls of “Downtown is a ghetto.” “Night Drive” might as well have been ripped straight from an eavesdropped session of AM a la the Arctic Monkeys. Listening to this tune, one cannot help but imagine Alex Turner in a leather jacket from a black-and-white video staggering about on stage. This is such a shame because this is not a bad song, it’s just so incredibly unoriginal.
“Too Many Times” is a song that is appropriately named: This synth-funk sound has been heard too many times and should have been left in the late Noughties. CITY CLUB teaches us that garage rock and ʼ80s synth funk don’t get along. The overwhelming feel of the album lies in cheesy synths, fuzzy vocals, and a mechanical drum beat. The record practically bleeds scuffed city-worn shoes, leather jackets, cigarettes, and too many amphetamine-fueled nights wandering around the Lower East Side. One aches for the bashful love songs and scuzzy guitars of previous Growlers records. The Growlers no longer smell like sun and salty sea air, but rather, cheap perfume and whisky. I wouldn’t be surprised if the band’s enclosed photo features matching Members Only jackets.
While the overuse of synths is painful on this record, there are slightly redeeming songs. “The Daisy Chain” sounds more like the Growlers: playful and charming with upbeat, happy melodies and a bright, poppy hook. The vocals aren’t trying too hard to be to cool, and the ʼ80s riff can be forgiven if one looks at the catchy, overall mood of the song. The guitar solo is smooth and wistful, and a welcome break from the overpowering synth. This song can skip the dark walk across the Brooklyn Bridge the rest of the album is made for; this is a tune made for open windows and sunshine. “When You Were Made” is another song to enjoy, with cordial lyrics and melodic backup vocals that could almost be passed as a ballad. However, the strange, faintly dreamy synth is completely unnecessary and distracting.
Back from the grubby streets of New York, the Growlers got it right in their song “Never Ending Line”: “Gone to the other side / you’ll find it ain’t so pretty.” While the switch to Cult Records and a move to the Big Apple could have spelled something new and exciting, the risk fashioned a tired record dredged up from disenchanted neon lights and dank street corners. CITY CLUB borrows too heavily from the Strokes and the Arctic Monkeys. To make matters worse, there is little variation on the record itself. CITY CLUB is at best, boring, and at worst, unoriginal. The Growlers should have stuck to their roots instead of forfeiting their authenticity. There’s nothing wrong with experimenting, but this record is a failed experiment.
Verdict: Do Not Recommend