Album review: Grim Fandango – Birthmark Blues

September 13, 2010
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Title: Brithmark Blues
Artist: Grim Fandango
Label: Poison City Records
Released: 6 September 2010
In one word: Intricate

Birthmark Blues is the debut long-player from Perth, Western Australia cow-punk/power-pop quartet Grim Fandango, following from their 2008 debut EP IV: Eat Not The Heart and a 2009 split-release with Melbourne’s Kill Whitey. Be warned: this is not your run-of-the mill punk rock record. It is far, far more.

The first striking thing about the Grim Fandango sound is the relative lack of crunching, distorted guitars which typically define punk music. Instead, guitarists Aaron Leavy and Tom Ware opt for janglier, poppy tones. This doesn’t, however, compromise the album’s intensity. With Ware’s passionate vocals and the relentless drumming of Robin Bray this is still an album well-suited to accompany those bouts of wall-punching anger we all experience from time to time.

Standout tracks include “Cotton Wool Kids”, from which the album derives its title, the banjo-laden hoe-down “Excuses! Excuses!” and the gruff, abrasive “Promises! Promises!” featuring lead vocals by bassist Burgs backed up ably by the rest of his band-mates. “All My Friends Are Leaving Brisbane” is an oddly-titled track for a Perth record, paying homage to Ware’s Queensland roots and packs a wallop with its punchy, passionate chorus.

Superbly produced by Mike Deslandes, the album is a good representation of the band’s live performances (which have truly set them apart from other local bands of this ilk), with precious little studio-trickery employed. Though it is nigh impossible to truly capture the energy of a Grim show on record, this is about as close as could be hoped short of the band releasing a warts-and-all live recording.

This is a record for any fan of Hot Water Music (with whom Grim Fandango are playing on the WA leg of their upcoming Australian tour), The Replacements or Lucero, with a little Hüsker Dü thrown in for good measure. No wonder these local boys made good can now call themselves the first WA band to be signed to Melbourne’s Poison City Records. So congratulations, Grim Fandango, everyone is proud.

© Steve Pass, Music Vice

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