The Grifters are perhaps the least recalled constituent of the mid-’90s indie-rock brigade. Having lost their status to more prolific bands like Guided by Voices, more pointed bands like Modest Mouse, or better bands like Pavement or Yo La Tengo, Memphis’s Grifters seem to have sung their lo-fi sob story from the bottom of used record bins. You or I may still hold dear our copies of Crappin’ You Negative, but it’s definitely covered in a very fine fuzz.
More power to those who’ve followed up on onetime Grifter David Shouse’s career — you few are surely aware of his efforts as Those Bastard Souls and have probably already familiarized yourselves with the Bloodthirsty Lovers. For the rest, The Delicate Seam will feel like catching up with an old friend — perhaps one who’s married and has a kid now but nevertheless is still grounded in the same mentality.
There’s a pointed diversity to each track on The Delicate Seam, the band’s second full-length. The thick guitar of “Stiltwalker’s Local No. 119” is the centerpiece as Shouse pontificates about hubcaps and UFO landings, but “El Shocko” is all sunshine and da-da-doos — it could be a flipside to Broken Social Scene’s “Pacific Theme.” Later, “Now You Know” barely works as synth-drenched arena-rock. I think even Bob Pollard threw away lines like “Now more than ever/ We need to get our shit together.” This is a little embarrassing until the gentle piano refrain — “Now you know/ Now you know” — is interrupted by an abrupt riff and a shout of “Give me drop dead rock ‘n’ roll!” Sure, I’ll buy that.
Synthesizers are all over the record, and more often they’re used for good instead of evil. “Happiness” is the best example, taking a standard mid-tempo Death Cab arrangement with crypto lyrics (“Hey/ don’t lend/ the keys to the car/ to an unhappy friend”) and adding in some crunchy synths to the song’s zombie-drone for an effectively ominous atmosphere.
But with the good comes the bad, and unfortunately the band goes out with a whimper with “Medicated.” Taking a drum loop straight out of Mac’s Garage Band program, Young People’s Katie Eastburn lends her striking voice to a snoozer of a track. “Don’t grow up jaded/ stay medicated,” she croons, as if she couldn’t come up with a better cliché. Unfortunate, really, because it was enjoyable to catch up with our favorite Grifter after all these years.