Must listen: Pearls, Dirt Church, Gagline
Skip: Unshriveled, Stalker, The Barge Comes
I’ll admit that I didn't know much about the Vancouver-by way of-Toronto band Groupoem. I read a little about them and found that they had just reformed in 2012 after a 25-year hiatus. Their return to activity is capped with Dirt Church, an 18-track rock album that is a little bit Buzzcocks, a little bit Jim Carroll Band, and a whole lotta mixed bag.
The album starts with Slimfast, which is a slow, moody jam that harkens back to early Nick Cave. It’s a solid, if unspectacular start to the long journey that is Dirt Church. From there we navigate through some songs that sound eerily similar to each other. The songs aren’t bad, but they’re not all that memorable either. Aside from the early groove on Frozen, the only standout moment on the early tracks of the album is track 8, the single-worthy Pearls. The dated-sounding, Two Bulls concludes the very slow, methodical, Mark Lanegan-lite first half of the album.
Now, something interesting happens at track 10. The song Skulls - Hey Judy sees the band take a sharp left turn into a much faster paced, punk sounding area that really suits them. Track 11, The Edge is more of the same. Fast licks and edgy lyrics show a side of the band that was sorely lacking during the first part of the record. The title track Dirt Church is next and it’s by far the most modern sounding cut on the album. It sounds like Ima Robot meets Tom Waits. Very good tune that I could see getting radio play in some markets. Sustenance continues the trend of up-tempo rockers and at times sounds like the Stray Cats on speed. Coming in at track 17, the song Gagline is Groupoem at their very best. It’s fast and smart and is a perfect choice as the penultimate cut of the album. The comically filthy and politically-charged Ass Bankwardz closes us out. The song is a big middle finger to the big banks and 1 percent and also adds some needed comic relief to an otherwise very moody experience.
The real challenge is getting through slower parts of the first half of the album to really hear them shine in the second half. They could have easily made the record 10 tracks and it would have raised my rating to ***1/2 stars. All-in-all Dirt Church is a solid listen. It’s too long with many forgettable moments, but the good is really good.