Frontman and founding member Jannis Noya Makrigiannis nearly didn’t release Grasque as a Choir of Young Believers album. Following the release of 2012’s Rhine’s Gold, he found himself tired and jaded, fed up with guitar driven rock and the alternative scene the band were immersed in. He packed himself up and went travelling, in search of fresh inspiration. On his travels, he found himself immersed in the South American rave scene. It was an experience that rekindled his relationship with music and set him on a path far removed from the band’s previous recordings.
Makrigiannis has ditched the orchestral instrumentation of the older COYB records in favour of icy electronica. And the result isn’t entirely favourable. Interestingly, along with a change in direction his vocals have also taken on a different character. Serious Lover finds him in full-on George Michael mode with ’80s style synth lines to match. Unfortunately, the melody isn’t strong enough to withstand its backward leanings.
The album weaves and winds its way through all manner of smooth, smokey R&B and electronica – never really making any meaningful claim for the listener’s heart or mind. The downtempo canter of Face Melt or the minimalist versus maximalist swing of Græske were no doubt approached in the spirit of experiment, but the result is less avant-garde than overworked. Equally, the tracks’ smooth polish can leave them feeling a little cold, making an emotional connection difficult.
Many of the songs are not helped in the least by their length. Despite a few brief interludes like Vaserne and Whirlpool Enigma, much here clocks in at over six minutes. For lengthy experimentation to be successful it has to go somewhere interesting, and for the most part, the songs on Grasque just don’t achieve this. The interminable wandering of Does It Look Like I Care make the title sadly ironic.
The record does have some sweet spots and they lie as a couple at the heart of the record. Despite having a recurring pan-pipe like noise throughout, Jeg Ser Dig has a propelling rhythm and convincing vocal that makes it the first fully compelling track on the album. Cloud Nine also rates highly, not least as it’s the record’s most upbeat offering, which offers a welcome change of atmosphere. It’s light, catchy and wholly enjoyable.
This is a record born of Makrigiannis’s travels and the as such he has created a transitory recording. Despite the length of many of the tracks, its pleasures are fleeting. COYB is most certainly his band, and he is free to do what he wants with it. But, as much as there’s much to be admired in making a change of direction as marked as this, in doing so he seems to have lost the emotional substance realised so effectively in the past on songs like Hollow Talk and Sedated. And in that respect, Grasque fails to make its mark.