Released on Nov. 9, Grapetooth’s self-titled debut album sounds just as I expected it would: like one big dance party pulled straight out of the ‘80s but with a fresh twist. It’s a record that’s indicative of all the fun and carelessness that often comes along with youth. And it’s a record that feels like the soundtrack to a night of aimless driving with friends — a night where everything just unfolds however it wishes to.
Hailing from Chicago, Twin Peaks’ Clay Frankel and producer Chris Bailoni (aka Home-Sick) formed Grapetooth in 2015 and released their first single — the addictive “Trouble” — two years later. Now, the duo has its first record under its belt, and it just might have some of the catchiest songs I’ve heard in awhile. Consisting of upbeat, synth-pop tunes and slower, mellow introspective songs, Grapetooth’s debut does a great job of balancing sounds and moods in this magnetic ride.
Opening with “Violent,” probably the most new wave song on the debut, the Chicago duo starts the record off strong. Similar to “Trouble” in that the song doesn’t have much variety in its lyrics, “Violent” immediately incites head-bobbing and dancing. Its fun, goofy music video pairs nicely with the steady drum beats and infectious synths that carry the song. And, of course, the repeating question of “Are you, are you violent?” is easily the part of the song that energizes fans the most. When I saw Grapetooth at Baby’s All Right in Brooklyn this past September, the crowd couldn’t wait to shout that lyric, and when they did I don’t think they could have belted it out any louder.
Flowing right from the fast-paced “Violent,” the group charges through to the smooth, spacey “Red Wine.” One of the best songs off the album, “Red Wine” is a nod to the band’s namesake and love of wine. It’s the kind of song that’s so good that it makes you a bit angry, and you just have to listen over and over again. Once the irresistible synth chorus hits and Frankel sings the repeated chorus of, “Oooh, you never love fast enough / Oooh, you never hit hard enough / It ain’t the leavin’, it’s the goin’ around,” it’d be alarming if you weren’t at least swaying along.
The songs “Mile After Mile” and “Together” move away from the upbeat new wave style of majority of the record and enter into a twangy, even folky sound. In what seems to be an open declaration of Frankel and Bailoni’s close friendship, “Together” — though a random genre shift — is a moment on the album where Frankel and Bailoni sing lyrics like “‘Cause whenever you’re with me / Together’s the best place to be.” Of course, the song could be about something very different from the duo’s friendship, but because Bailoni joins Frankel on vocals and it’s the last song on the album, it seems like it’s about them. The song sounds similar to Twin Peaks’ song “Fat Chance,” in terms of the vocal style and country-folk feel.
One standout on the record is “Death,” which cruises along with captivating synths. The song moves in a way that makes it almost impossible to not play it on a loop. “Blood” is another one off the album that can’t be listened to just once — it’s an explosive new wave dance anthem. And live, this song turns a Friday night concert into a wild dance party.
For its debut, Grapetooth has created a dynamic collection of new wave hits that feel like they’re from the ‘80s while simultaneously being of this time. Though it’s not perfect — “Hallelujah” is the weakest one off the album — Grapetooth’s self-titled record is an impressive blend of sounds and styles that leaves me excited for the duo’s future.
Here at 20 Watts, we don’t have a rating system (at least no one has ever told me it). So, all I’ll say is that it would be at your disadvantage to not give this album a listen.