Not sure why this Costa Mesa band insists on calling this album an “EP.” Though false modesty and/or a drunken inability to clock album lengths would seem to be understandable personality quirks for this woozy California bunch. The fourth album from the Growlers is a bit shorter than their previous long-players, but it’s not short on the kind of tinkling porch crooners they’ve been laying out since 2008. Here are nine songs of greasy, citified vagrancies drizzled over a rural heart. Countryish, I suppose, but like the scotch-sipping apartment hoedowns Lee Hazelwood would sprawl out on a couch at.
Hiding Under Covers has a ‘50s cha-cha beat and reverb guitars, and thankfully Brooks Nielsen’s Dylan-y drawl doesn’t exhibit much of the coy dreaminess that seems to saddle much ’50s-leaning tunesmithery on the current indie scene. Ol’ Rat Face and Nobody Owns You has some surf guitar licks hanging back behind warbly psych-lite and distant synth whooshing. That whoosh sometimes pines for attention like the snotty kid in this family of demi-hippies. And for the most part, the brood keeps that kid occupied with his toys while the ’70s fringe jacket-wearing parents finish their drinks on stuff like the Mungo Jerry rip, “Tell It How It Is.”
They’re got heaps of possible yalp-along lyrics here that, if you stop and think about it before you flop that fist in the air in solidarity, aren’t at all triumphant, even in the drunk at the bar at 2:20 am sense. There’s lots of talk of failure, loss and hurtin’. “She’s so tired of my broke-ass life” (Humdrum Blues); “To find what he loves, even if it’s pain” (“Ego of Man”). A kind of tipsy spittle at the corners of Nielsen’s gush feels like a saving grace sense of humor, as does the relatively clear, not overly reverbed production, with a tonic splash of early Strokes melodic mope for good measure.
This is barrelhouse blues for folks whose closest thing to a barrelhouse in their hood has $12 top shelf and the cool old conversational booths have been pulled for a Big Buck Hunter machine and a few more feet to stick in more frat dudes. And that’s not Charles Bukowski at the end of the bar, it’s the bass player sneaking out the back door. Why do they always have to “renovate” those cool old dives?