Life at 17 is fraught. It's full of beauty, pain, confusion, joy, and anger. Grooms channel this melange on Prom, their latest album. From the opening track , Tiger Trees, the band sets up their high stakes ambivalence. Pretty slide guitar and thoughtful fingerpicked repetition is juxtaposed with an 8-bit rhythm beat. The song is dreamy, yet full of drama. Clean, simple elements clash with low-fi distortion.
If Janis Ian's At Seventeen offers a detached acceptance coming at the brink of adulthood, Grooms are more fully engaged on their Sonic Youth inspired title track. Starting with a looped echo artifact and throbbing bass, Prom sets a scene:
Seventeen is the whole worldThe deliberately paced vocal recitation has an undercurrent of Paul Westerberg angst. The solo is a mainline of uncontrolled noise that seems to represent a response to all the pressures of adolescence.
In my room, the Smiths and girls
Phantom friends, their shadow shakes
The secret hallway, on audio tape
And I want to be friends with you...
Real adolescents aren't cardboard cutouts of hormones, stubbornness, and frustration; they have insights, weigh philosophical alternatives, and can have a sense of truth. too. Prom's mix of noise, punk energy, interesting musical progressions, and dynamics reflect a band that can contradict itself and still maintain some consistency.
The noisy tension on Prom and on tracks like Imagining the Bodies are balanced by moments of charming reverie, like Psychics' low washes of feedback-like sound. A low-fi, dark aesthetic permeates Prom, but still reveals a thoughtfully constructed set of songs. Listeners can surrender themselves to the cathartic flow or they can detach and probably miss the whole point. Choose wisely.