It would seem most appropriate to review Grand Archives’ debut LP without any comparison between it and front man Mat Brooks’ former outfit, Band of Horses. It seems only fair to critique this first Sub Pop release based solely upon its own musical merits. Yes, a somewhat unclean break between Brooks and BOH front man Ben Bridewell was the catalyst for Grand Archives, but, nonetheless, they should only be viewed as an entirely separate entity …
… Which is why it’s so frustrating to hear the opening vocal strains of “Torn Blue Foam Couch” and be so utterly reminded of Everything All The Time. The weightlessly ethereal croon Brooks begins the album with is painfully similar to many of the stand-out tracks from the impressive first disc of his former band. Yet, perhaps, Brooks’ intention in firing an opening salvo so reminiscent is to allow the true sound of Grand Archives to fully be realized—regardless of what came before.
If this was Brooks’ goal, he achieved it admirably. Over the course of the debut, Grand Archives beautifully formulates a distinct sound; a multi-layered vocal tapestry interwoven with equal parts melancholy and cheer. Brooks composes sparse yet complex melodies; rife with ghostly harmonization that at times (such as the deceptively cheerful “Miniature Birds”) brings The Beach Boys to mind.
Grand Archives finds a depth in its compositions based on the altogether feel of the album, as if every member was entirely involved in every step of the process. The gentle country-twang that finds its way into the harmonica-laced, front-porch lullaby of “George Kaminski,” and the way the popular “Sleepdriving” echoes solemnly behind a meaty piano’s chord progression show the work of a band tightly knitted at all stages—something Brooks’ musical alma mater is hard-fought to attest to.
In the end, Grand Archives has crafted an intriguing first album, one that clearly distinguishes themselves not only from what came before, but as a musical force all their own.