Better Things (self released)
~reviewed by Stuart Moses
I like the fact that the goth scene attracts eccentric people. Admittedly I’m using their music to judge the normality or otherwise of The Groaning, but my guess is that here we have people who think outside the mainstream.
Singer Charon Power has a stentorian tone, almost operatic, in the style of Gitane Demone. The Groaning could have done a version of “Incendiary Lovers” and it wouldn’t have sounded out of place on this ep. Opening song “Better Things” sounds like a skeletal Die Laughing, with a prominent violin adding to the distress expressed. It doesn’t quite warrant its near six minute running time, but makes an effective opening. The chorus and verse are significantly different to each other to catch the listener’s attention, but still feel part of the same song. The style of recording here is lo-fi, perhaps deliberately so, perhaps dictated by circumstances.
The tempo initially drops for “Satan Doesn’t Like You”, with a flute and violin taking the lead for the slow-paced intro. Then the instruments kick in and it’s a punky romp, complete with ‘Oi! Oi! Oi!’s in the backing vocals. The violin runs remind me of Ed Alleyne Johnson’s work with New Model Army circa Thunder and Consolation. Charon’s vocals are scratchy and harsh and I’m just about to file this song in the Not-For-Me category, when suddenly everything goes prog rock. Just after the two minute mark the pace drops, in comes the flute and Charon switches her vocal setting from harpy to valkyrie. It’s such an unexpected change I’m quite spellbound. I’m not sure about the band’s use of Satan as a metaphor. The way the lyrics describe Satan is actually rebellious in a weird way. In the past, rock has held up Satan as a good thing, yet here The Groaning seem to align themselves with the viewpoint of the Catholic Church in thinking Satan is a negative thing. Though to my knowledge the Pope has never actually used male genitalia as a metaphor to describe the devil.
There’s an anti-consumerist message contained in “Arteries”. It starts with a complaint about the traffic which becomes an extended metaphor encompassing the fact that we will all die in the end: “the destination never was in doubt.” The Groaning suggest we should “reach another” and make loving connections with other people. The music matches the mood of the words, a spiralling piano is particularly suffocating. The atmosphere reminds me of some of Wall of Voodoo’s more claustrophobic moments.
“On My Own” is about a relationship. Whether it is a relationship with the protagonist’s lover or a Christian God is left for the listener to decide. My suspicions are metaphysical, with the line “I need a bigger purpose than I” and the Hell imagery suggesting that this love is not earth-bound. It’s an effective upbeat romp with an ever-circling violin.
“Song of Job” concludes the ep. Charon implores: “Oh God send stars to catch my fault.” Like the rest of this CD the sound is sometimes ramshackle, adding to the charm. Extra attention has been paid to the drums which form the basis of this song. The flute and violin play with each other over a bed of distorted guitar.
I am glad that bands like The Groaning exist. Not only do they refuse to play by mainstream rules, they refuse to play by non-mainstream rules too. They have a quirky sound, a lo-fi approach to recording and an unusual approach to faith. Many goth bands use religious imagery, yet the way The Groaning approach such topics makes them sound fresh. They don’t use religion as a metaphor for sex, for example, but instead as a design for life. You’ve got to respect them for that.