Grand Cafe ‘Elm Tree Gardens’ – Review.

Grand Café ‘Elm Tree Gardens’.

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Grand Cafe (L-R) – Richard Opsal-Engen (Guitar), Thomas Pytterud (Drums), Kenneth Sandberg (Bass), Christer Krogh (Vocals/Guitar), Didrik Lund (Piano/Organ)

So, a few days ago I received an email from a guy with an excellent name – he’s also called Chris – asking me to have a listen to his band’s album. I was of course more than happy to oblige. That band is Grand Café and the album is ‘Elm Tree Gardens’, released on April 26th this year. Drawing heavy influence from the Detroit rock scene of the sixties, ‘Elm Tree Gardens’ is a hugely dynamic record, effortlessly alternating between raw rock muscle a gentler instrumentation. It’s a fiercely inventive record too and makes no apologies for it. This is the band’s sophomore release, following 2008’s ‘Put A Little Grease On My Axe’ (now there’s a euphemism if ever I heard one), and by all accounts they haven’t done things by halves, electing to enlist Taking Back Sunday and Turbonegro producer Lars Voldsal to helm the sessions.

’26 Days’ kicks off proceedings, and it’s a compelling album opener. The mood here is both contemplative and slightly creepy, in the same sense that Sting’s ode to the joys of stalking ‘I’ll Be Missing You’ is; although frontman Christer Krogh seems to be a little more aware of himself than The Police frontman ever was when he describes spending “26 days on your bedroom floor, I spent days and nights just to a little get closer to you, in my mind where I’m ruined, just because of you”. An eerie, repeated guitar pattern and skittering yet relentless drums draw the song towards a cataclysmic, discordant chorus. Superb.

‘A Hole In Your Soul’ is next, opening with wave after wave of clashing drums against the shore that is the listener’s ears and stabs on a Hammond organ, and Krogh, who informs an unseen antagonist that he’ll “follow your lead like a dog”. First single ‘Million Miles Away’ veers further towards indie sounding not unlike ‘Antics’ era Interpol, intricately weaving piano and guitar whilst leaving room for Krogh’s superbly emotive voice. You can see the inventive side of the album clearly here too as the Hammond organ makes an appearance again here too, and it works incredibly well when it perhaps should not. Slow burner ‘No Bridge Unknown’ opens with a classic eighties power ballad lead guitar and builds to an almighty chorus. Lyrically the song is a lament for one of those broken souls we all encounter from time to time; those whose lives have burned out in a blaze of chaos.

Title track ‘Elm Tree Gardens’ loosely continues this theme; a discordant tale of a man “walking round in the wind and the rain in the Elm Tree Gardens” who is a “shame a disgrace and he’s locked in his mind” all accompanied by military drums and crystal clean guitars. ‘Lust’ talks of a (possibly autobiographical) one night stand ending in unrequited love; “you came out of lust, as I wanted you to – as you wanted me to. You came with your heart, you held it up high but I was too blind to see”, Melody on ‘Lust’ comes from a mournful flute, immaculately underpinning Krogh’s unfortunate tale with delicate majesty. It has to be said at this point that the aforementioned experimental instrumentation on this album is superbly executed and utterly fearless. Experimentalism in music is something that in the wrong hands can completely destroy and album, but on ‘Elm Tree Gardens’ Grand Café have got it spot on.

‘The Captain Roams’ is a bombastic rock track, rammed fuller than Kerry Katona with driving rhythms, insistent guitars and a superbly sleazy bassline, and the declaration that “these chains are yours to own”. Kinky. ‘Headsman’ is the clearest example of the band’s sixties influences, sounding like a fuzzed up homage to Led Zeppelin (yes, I know they weren’t a sixties band!) – and it’s utterly awesome. The thing I love most about ‘Elm Tree Gardens’ is that no two tracks are the same; and ‘Murdergame’ is no exception. A moody, churning number about addiction to murder that features the startling revelation “my medicine is death, that’s why I’m sane”. One of the most addictive (and in turn, ironic) tracks on the album. ‘Killer Bee’ is a chorus drenched musical family tree, with some of the finest guitar work I have heard on an album in a while, and ‘A Sign Of Love’ – it may not surprise you to know – is a piano led love song, with Krogh urging the subject of his affections to “open your eyes and let me be with you, let me just take your hand and we’ll walk together”. It may not be Shakespeare, but it’s still beautiful.

So, thanks to Chris for sending me ‘Elm Tree Gardens’. Grand Café are a band that at the time of writing have had very little recognition in the UK, and this is a crying shame – however, on the strength of the wonderful ‘Elm Tree Gardens’  this will hopefully become a thing of the past.

4/5.

Here’s the video for first single ‘Million Miles Away’. Enjoy!

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