Sunday, July 17, 2011

Andy Gruhin, Not Without His Wings

It's been just about a year since Andy Gruhin's last EP, World Out There, came out and captured my senses and revamped my faith in true pop-rock. The EP, with tracks like "Sore Losers" and "Higher," blurred the borders between pop-rock and alternative rock with a pop-sheen in the best of ways. In fact, that was one of the reasons that the six-song EP so strongly gripped me and didn't let go.

Now Gruhin is back with his sophomore EP, Let the Darkness Grow!, an effort that shows clear artistic growth as well as an evolution in direction and musicality. From the start, my favorite thing about the new EP is Gruhin's reworking of his song "Without My Wings." This was the sixth song on World Out There, a bonus track that came in acoustic form and presented itself as something more than a run-of-the-mill pop-rock song. Even on the most primitive recordings of this song, Gruhin's original lyrical style is front and center, and on this new, full-throttle recording, the lyrics are clearer than ever, and the only thing I can say is that I only wish I could write the way Gruhin does. If nothing else about the song worked, the lyrics would still bail it out time and time again, and it's clear that the wordplay on Gruhin's other songs that stand out (such as that on "Higher" and "Sore Losers") is not a fluke of good luck. Musically, "Without My Wings" has had an interesting history. The first version of this song was simply Gruhin on unaccompanied guitar: just a guy and his strings. Yet the second evolution saw the introduction of piano notes and female background vocals at the breaking of the chorus. This most current recording, though, has taken the song to all-new heights. The song blasts forward with a combination of riffs that tear at you in the best of ways; already it is impossible not to be getting into it. Then the beat of the drums seems to drive it further and faster, and as the first chorus rolls in, Gruhin's vocals climb the latter to show his true range. The palm-mutes are addictive, and the guitar notes that spike up over the bridge just before the second chorus literally make the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Intentional or not, "Without My Wings" is the stand-out track on the EP, and clearly my song of choice for the lead-single. Record execs listening to this track would be out of their minds not to rush to sign a deal with Gruhin as soon as they could find a pen.
Just behind "Without My Wings" in terms of energy and Gruhin-originality is "The Fairest," a track that exudes clever new lyrical concepts that add to Gruhin's clear creativity as an artist. The double-beat drums in this song are rhythmically addicting, and the chords that shake with just the right amount of distortion mesh with Gruhin's voice just right. The choral vocals here amaze me: Gruhin pushes himself to his limits and hits notes that I wouldn't expect. Vocally, the song is also set apart by its bridge, and the interactive female vocals provided by Tessa Traux. Truthfully, the intermingling of Gruhin's voice with Traux's is one of the high points of the EP, and for me, I hope to hear more of this in the future if Gruhin sees fit to stick with it.  
With the tracks "Wasted Words" and "Let the Darkness Grow!" providing some more attitude on the album, Gruhin also experiments with newer song styles. "I'll Follow You" is the ballad of the record: piano-driven and reveling in Gruhin's inventive diction dynamics, this track is more than a simple sappy song. The eventual building of the song sets it apart from other cheesy ballads. Relying on an evolution from piano keys to hard guitar chords, "I'll Follow You" surprises me at every turn, when by the end, the rhythm is faster and enters the territory of the anthemic arena chorus. This is the song to pull out your Zippo lighter and light up the night as Gruhin pushes forward on stage. As close as anyone can get to a power-ballad now without ten cans of hairspray, "I'll Follow You" is a true triumph for Gruhin, as he really begins to spread and flex his wings before taking flight.
With a debut EP like World Out There and a follow-up like Let the Darkness Grow!, Gruhin is making himself impossible to ignore. Any college would be lucky to book him for their spring semester concert, and I don't think it will be long before that's what's happening. Crossing the bridge from underground act to mainstream success has proved difficult for many artists, but with songs like these, Gruhin will have a much easier time with it. Write-ups in school papers and online blogs are just the beginning for this original singer-songwriter; soon it'll reach the breaking point, and from there, there's no looking back. And that's just where Gruhin is heading. Full steam ahead, Andy Gruhin is on the expressway to the top.

Key Tracks from Let the Darkness Grow!: "Without My Wings," "The Fairest," "I'll Follow You, "Let the Darkness Grow!"

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