Baby Grendel - Baby Grendel (EP Review)

On their self-titled EP, Portlander indie-rock outfit Baby Grendel craft winning tunes underpinned by an uninhibited capacity for expression and an ability to build colourful worlds via jangly and roaming art rock. Combining the sensibilities of guitarist and vocalist Jonathan Suarez and drummer Joe Mengis, the duo are often brightly murky, calling to mind the cutesy intellectualism of Alex G, the personable approach of Elliott Smith or the moody guitar work of Nirvana. 

The opening track "From the Mud" pits Suarez's eerie riffs and nonchalant singing style against Mengis' tight rhythms and reigned-in approach. Baby Grundel get past their mid-fidelity origins with moxie and indifference. "You're a fucking nuisance everybody knows it," are the type of confessional lyrics that pepper this release.   

The anthemic "Child's Howl" sees Suarez, accompanied by Patti King on violin and Kyle Lockwood on Cello, blast out a ditty that sounds like it was borne from a revelatory campfire sesh ("We'll look like death until the power comes back on"). The power-poppy "Sidewalk" seems to have a million choruses, and displays confidence and focus as it goes through them with ease. There's something in Suarez's singing that harks back to early 00s guilty pleasures like the Ataris or Starting Line. However, the impact of a track as fun as "Sidewalk" doesn't rest in its production or performances (which are fine), but in the intention of the writing, as evidenced in the closing track, an acoustic version of "Sidewalk".

Elsewhere, the reverb-rich "Blood Brother" stretches the duo's sound out towards more sonically experimental territory, mixing in piano strikes and textural ambience to compliment its smooth constitution. "Song in B-Minor" is an off-kilter and somewhat hard-to-follow doozy.  

Produced by Mengis and Larry Crane at Jackpot! and mixed by Crane, the production of Baby Grendel neither serves nor hinders the songs. Costlier engineers stricter on getting perfect takes and more studio time may have resulted in a surefire hit, possibly even two, though that also could've sucked the life out of these tracks; of which they have plenty. 

The group don't go for commercial viability with polished mixes, nor do they reach for the low-hanging fruit of indie-street-cred-ready esoteric songwriting. Instead, Suarez wears his heart on his sleeve, penning songs that conjure the sweetness of summer days and the emotional complexities of summer nights. Propelled by Mengis' solid playing style, the result might infer a pining or expression of nostalgia, but at least it's genuine.