For their second full-length, the three members of New York’s Robbers on High Street (after the 2005 Tree City debut, Jeremy Phillips and Tomer Danan left the band and Morgan King joined) called on Italian film composer Daniele Luppi, who had never worked with a rock band, hoping to capture a British Invasion sound that vibes with the band’s power-pop energy. Although Grand Animals falls short of hitting that mark, but the album is more sophisticated than Robbers on High Street’s one-dimensional debut.
The Robbers don’t experiment with one particular sound, a testament to their progress. In the three-minute “Ramp,” lead singer and guitarist Ben Trokan moves from a dry croon, gathers momentum and then closes on the piano. “Your Phantom Walks the Hall,” where Luppi’s influence is heavy, puts synths and strings to maximum cinematic effect to suit Trokan’s moody lyrics. “You Don’t Stand a Chance” infuses ska-style guitars and echoing vocals that evoke an Elvis Costello/Coldplay hybrid.
But there is much here that showed up on Tree City. The opening ballad, “Across Your Knee,” jumps from a full-band effect to verses concentrated on Trokan strumming and wailing. “Crown Victoria” features dueling electric and acoustic guitars. And “Married Young” and “Nasty Numbers” locate the same energy upon which Trokan and Steve Mercado founded the band in their Poughkeepsie youth.
Trokan overindulges in “Guard at Your Heel” and “Keys to the Century” — a forgettable closing tandem that once again shows the Robbers have plenty of room to improve. But with Luppi’s influence, the band holds its ground in more sophisticated territory on Grand Animals than it has in the past.