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Four of Arrows, the sophomore album by Seattle indie pop band Great Grandpa, features the titular tarot card on its cover—a lone soldier surrounded, but not maimed, by four arrows pointed up out of the ground. In tarot, this can symbolise the need for rest, rejuvenation, and recovery. These are the major themes of Great Grandpa’s life writing this album.
According to the band themselves, this album is the result of a period of rest and introspection. A time to reflect on themselves and produce a more mature, vulnerable album than 2017’s Plastic Cough. That record mostly borrowed themes from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, talking about pizza and horror movies. Replacing heroes in a half shell are more serious themes—relationships, mental health, and innocence.
Aiding them in this is Mike Vernon Davis, best known for his work with Modest Mouse. Davis is a producer with a phenomenal ear for the dynamics and energy that a pop-punk band need to pull off an album like this—and it certainly shows.
The dynamic ability here is outstanding, with massive leaps in energy throughout songs like ‘Digger’ or ‘Treat Jar’. Screeching guitar plays nicely with the technical knowledge to make it stand out. The vocal work of Alex Menne is fairly hefty as well, throwing her voice and letting it crack like a whip. There’s a lot of power cutting through, and a lot of the emotional clarity comes from Menne too.
This is all very standard pop-punk fare and it is executed well, but the issue is that there’s little here to actually separate this album from records by the likes of Versaemerge or Hey Monday—way back when such names mattered. Doing a genre well is one thing, but standing out in it is another matter entirely.
That’s why songs like ‘Endling’ and ‘Human Condition’ break my heart a little. There’s an enormous musical intelligence in these two songs, and I wish there was an entire album of them. The atmosphere the piano conjures from nothing is exceptional, but this feels like too brief an interlude from the rest of the record.
The vocal melodies are fairly lazy here, there is very little thought besides the most trodden melodic path. But often the lyrics just feel pasted over a solid musical backing. The opening of ‘Rosalie’ feels like a country and western imitation being squeezed through small speakers and the effect is jarring. It feels like mature songwriting attempted by someone who read the back of a book about mature songwriting.
Four of Arrows is a solid, standard pop-punk album with a few moments where it feels like Great Grandpa had hit on something really interesting. Really, you can hear such potential in ‘Endling’, it’s such a shame this hasn’t been capitalised on more. That exotic arrangement and delicate juxtaposition of interesting harmonies? It’s genius. But why wasn’t the whole album like this?
In the end, Great Grandpa are another pop-punk band in the traditional vein. As much as I want to like them, there is nothing here that sets them apart from older, wiser, and more inventive bands that have already worn the path far more confidently than Great Grandpa have with Four of Arrows.
Four of Arrows will be available on October 25. Pre-order here.