While the rest of us were cursing the endless snows of last winter, shoveling the never ending piles that towered overhead, our friends from The Grownup Noise were hard at work crafting a new album entitled Stewing. It had been less than a year since their previous release, The Problem with Living in the Moment. It’s hard to imagine such focused effort in the midst of Snowpocalypse 2015, but, as so often with sudden bursts of creativity, it came out of a sense of urgency. The band had learned that two beloved family members, Aine Fujioka (drums) and Todd Marston (keys, accordion), would be leaving in the autumn. They quickly realized that they had to release one more collection of songs to capture the band’s essence, such a special collection of musical talent and personalities that had sustained them since their debut album in 2007. As lead singer Paul Hansen explains it, “These songs came from slow, simmering anxiety mixed with apocalyptic snow storms. Maybe like food absorbing flavor in a hot kettle. Hence the title, ‘Stewing’. I like to think of this album as grouchy minimalism, compared to our previous 3 albums. It is good to know that something good can come from raw floundering.”
This beautifully composed and exquisitely performed album hardly sounds like “raw floundering.” It feels extremely well thought-out and captures their essence of sophisticated musical artistry mixed with shared intimacy. This album flows so smoothly with such joy and wistfulness, it’s unfathomable that it was written and recorded huddling by a radiator to stay warm or stuck in a vehicle outside in the frozen snow. The daydreamy thoughtfulness of this collection probably owes quite a bit to the strong emotions that birthed it. Everything I love about this fantastic band is here — the strings, the vulnerable vocals, the smart/sad lyrics, the acoustic guitars, the gentle percussion and bass that shuffles along, the festive accordion and tinkling keys. Beautiful.
There is so much to love here, but rather than discuss each song, I’ll just say that the album runs the gambit from gentle melodies, thoughtful lyrics and warm vocals with their trademark close harmonies to more cacophonous moments, courtesy of a very special guest, Mr. Dana Colley of Morphine fame. He’s on five of the songs with his extremely recognizable and quite glorious sax.
One of my favorite songs on the album, however, is a quieter thing called “The Storm I Love.” It begins with acapella harmonies, then continues with a languid and meandering piano and gentle percussion and bass. It’s sweet, minimalist and full of heart.
“Shake it off
the notion that we’re all just lost
and the bad guys have won
stay with me for just one more dream
I call on you
restore my faith in people.”
– The Storm I Love
Stewing was mixed by Sam Kassirer (Lake Street Dive, Josh Ritter, David Wax).
I would like to thank The Grownup Noise — Paul Hansen (vocals, guitar, keys), Adam Sankowski (bass, keys, vocals), Katie Franich (cello, keys, vocals), Aine Fujioka (drums, vocals) and Todd Marsten (accordion, keys) for their considerable contribution to the richness and beauty of Boston’s wildly creative and vibrant music scene. And also for the lovely live performances I’ve had the great pleasure to attend.
But this is no eulogy, because the band will, I’m sure, open its doors to new members, and Aine and Todd will further explore their creative paths elsewhere and with new collaborators. It’s not the end of the book, but merely one chapter finishing so another can begin.
To celebrate this stunning achievement and commemorate their time together as a musical family, The Grownup Noise will be performing two very special shows on Friday, August 14 and Saturday, August 15. These will be their final performances with Todd and Aine, so you won’t want to miss them! The first will be full-on and electric at the Davis Square Theater and, just announced, Dana Colley will be joining them! The second is a quieter and more intimate acoustic affair at the even teenier Lilypad in Inman Square, Cambridge. See details below and join them if you can to help them celebrate and wish everyone well. And pick up a copy of Stewing, which will presumably be available at both shows. Best of luck to everyone!