Album Review: Grave Babies – Crusher

[Hardly Art; 2013]

Theres this tendency amongst musicians spouting off influences to aim for the obscure. Drop a late ’80s twee band who released a handful of limited press 7″s here, a little known German industrial band there, and you have this magic formula for mass critical fawning. Grave Babies’ vocalist and brain trust Danny Wahlfeldt harbors no such pretensions. Citing Nirvana and Nine Inch Nails as the spiritual ancestors of his blown out sonics, Wahlfeldt makes clear that his music is, well, dark and moody. But whatever Wahlfeldt’s intentions, Grave Babies’ debut sounds more indebted to smeared eye liner than to flannel, offering up a histrionic take on no-fi goth rock rather than grunge’s relative muscle and bombast.

Make no mistake, subtlety is not Grave Babies’ goal. With a needle firmly planted in the red from the instrumental opener, the Seattle trio blasts through 33 minutes of industrial tinted indie rock with Wahlfeldt’s multi-tracked vocals providing a decidedly dour guiding light through the dankness of the clangorous instrumentals. “Over and Under Ground” takes prototypical post-punk bass line fervor and kick-kick-snare-snare sparseness as a bed for Wahlfeldt’s impressionistic verses of isolation. It’s bedroom sit in goth rock at it’s best, but coming from a lens of boisterous alternative rock rather than intentional worship at the altar of Ian Curtis.

When he’s at his best, production wise, Wahlfeldt finds success on “Skulls.” Chorused vocals compete for space with “Fever Dreaming”-esque guitar squalls in the most Seattle moment of the record, conjuring the angsty gloom of grunge but in a decidedly more subversive fashion. Wahlfeldt’s idols built their records on crystalline production courtesy of Steve Albini, but Wahlfeldt’s aesthetic is more in line with the bedroom bedeviling of early efforts from Nathan Williams (or even Albini for that matter). Conjuring the claustrophobia of the early Big Black EPs and the unhinged fuzz that Williams employed on his first attempts at Wavves material, Wahlfeldt meanders his way through 16 tracks of ripped up dark pop, buzzing and chiming at all the appropriate moments.

But that may be something for something ostensibly recorded on his own and–at least sonically–removed from any appreciable studio setting, there’s something about Crusher that manages to feel a bit too perfect. It’s not too far removed from the buzzy underworld that tktk tktk conjures as The Soft Moon, and like that project Wahlfeldt has yet to retain a sonic identity of his own. But despite the thimble of predictability or aural similarity, Wahlfeldt has accomplished in Crusher an interesting take on familiar sounds. It’s too fuzzed out to just be post-punk, too sparse to just be a home-recorded take on his alt-rock idol. If moving forward he manages to further exploit his uniqueness rather than pay homage, this little one man project might manage something special.