There is a relentless exuberance to L.A. based indie-pop band Grouplove’s third full length album Big Mess. Although apparently named in honour of the current turbulent state of the world aligning with some personal disarray in the lives of musical and romantic partners Christian Zucconi and Hannah Hooper, the duo choose to focus on transmitting a bright, seize-the-day message that unfortunately too often comes across as trite maxim-songs designed to be picked up by commercials and TV shows. You are probably going to hear at least a few of these tunes somewhere, including first single and album opener “Welcome To Your Life”, and some of them will likely become as ubiquitous as previous singles “Colours” and “Tongue Tied”. But Big Mess represents the side of pop that is more grating than irresistible.
Subtleties of any sort don’t seem to be up Grouplove’s alley, nor are they necessarily to be expected from any pop group. With half of the production duties being handled by Captain Cuts (aka drummer Ryan Rabin), and half handled by legendary indie super-producer Phil Ek, there is a clear emphasis on making Big Mess as extroverted and shiny as possible. Ek certainly has an impressive resume within the world of indie-dom, and turns out to be oddly suited to executing this style of production in an exaggerated pop context. Cuts such as “Traumatized” and “Heart of Mine” even seem to pay tribute to the classic nineties indie rock (Built to Spill, Modest Mouse, Band of Horses) that solidified his reputation. These tracks show up later in the album, and also happen to be the strongest, as they prioritize the band’s melodic sensibilities and craft over jingle writing.
Opener “Welcome to Your Life” sets the tone for the majority of the record with Hooper’s refrain of “We’re back in business/You’re such a big mess/ And I love you” signalling the many childlike and disposable lyrical contributions to come from both her and husband Zucconi. Now, not everyone can or should go as deep and poetic as Kendrick Lamar, Angel Olsen or Blood Orange, but I think we all deserve a little better than “All the boys from NYC come follow me, come follow me/All the girls from the internet, getting wet, getting wet” from “Don’t Stop Making It Happen”.
The pseudo-rapped delivery on some of the more dancey songs on Big Mess does not do these awkward rhymes any favours. Typical dropped-in four-on-the-floor pop choruses on songs such as “Good Morning” and “Do You Love Someone” also don’t add up to much that you couldn’t find somewhere else these days. These elements begin to seem like a carefully prepared stew of current trends in pop, ideal for soundtracks and commercial background music.
Perhaps Grouplove’s Big Mess provides a definition of what commercial “indie” rock is in 2016: music that is actually created to be played in commercials. Single “Tongue Tied” from debut album Never Trust a Happy Song was certified platinum after it was featured in ads for Apple, Coca-Cola and iPod Touch, and it seems the band may be looking to repeat this success. At least half of Big Mess seems likely to do so, and while it may function well at his level, there are certainly more melodic, clever and memorable options available from the current pop landscape.
review by Daniel Geddes