Album Review: Grand Lake – "Blood Sea Dream"

Oakland’s Grand Lake have presented a debut full-length that is fully formed in its sound, with variance from song to song but without taking huge leaps in genre in an attempt to please everybody. This clearly developed sound is obviously a result of the band having worked together for 15 years and touring with several different acts. They have a unique approach that is both inviting and catchy with clear arrangements and interesting sonic experiments that places them in the company of more established acts like Spoon.

Songs like “Carporforo” and “Oedipus Hex (Highway 1 North)” chart bluesy territory with lead guitar lines weaving through the vocals evoking the sound of early Dire Straits tunes like “Down to the Waterline” or “Sultans of Swing”. The guitar echos as it fades away from melodic lines that never take up too much space, and this is an album that is concerned with the proper use of space. The bass picks up the role of a rhythm guitarist in its ever-present, sometimes distortion drenched thickness while drummer John Pomeroy changes things up in the background. Their sonic palette does not simply consist of lead electric guitar, bass and drums, though. Grand Lake employs the sound of a string quartet in several tracks, acoustic guitar as harmonic backdrop when necessary and glockenspiel in places. These new sounds never take over, and are never too much, they serve the songs well with vocals and clean guitar work always front and center.

Grand Lake's - "Blood Sea Dream"

Most notable is “Our Divorce”, sounding like something taken directly from the Jeff Buckley songbook. The string quartet serves as accompaniment to this mid-tempo waltz with a gently swaying guitar melody that blissfully careens through the chorus, ducking from major to minor with ease. Contrast this with “Spark”, which is a bit more aggressive, which grows to a loud climax that is simultaneously shouted and pounded out on the drums. The contrast is welcomed but we never stray too far from home, even with the almost ambient drone of “Threnody for F.A. Mesmer”, a respite placed just after the middle of the album.

Opening track “It Takes a Horse to Light a House” sounds like the best candidate for a radio-friendly single in an album that is chock full of catchy hooks and tight songwriting. The memorable melody in the verse, set against a spacious arrangement of electronics and delicate guitar work would fare well on any college radio station, but it certainly doesn’t define the album in its entirety. The album revels in its contrasts, but the band manages to keep a singular sound throughout. They have the ability to go from dark musical territory in “Concrete Blonde on Blonde (880 South)” to “Riderless Horse” which is spare and spacious, opening up and showing that they are not afraid to let the vocals stand out almost completely unaccompanied.

Grand Lake’s focus on tight songwriting and musicality with special attention paid to clear arrangements pays off. “Blood Sea Dream” is a solid way to bring a full length debut into the world.

You can preview the album in its entirety at their bandcamp site here.