Neill Dougan reviews Grooms ‘careworn but pretty much perfect‘ Brothers & Sisters EP. When I was a teenager, one of our friends got a proper old-skool Volkswagen Beetle as a present from his folks when he passed his driving test. It was a real banger – about twenty years old, its steering was like that of a tank, with a handbrake that didn’t really work. The whole car shuddered when you did over 50 and, on one spectacularly terrifying occasion, the doors spontaneously opened as we booted down the motorway.
Nonetheless, that car was genuinely amazing. It ferried gangs of us to and from our bouts of teenage mischief, to the away weekends and random parties that that marked our first fledgling steps into young adulthood. When I think of long hot summers, of parties and festivals, of unrequited lust, of two-litre bottles of cider and small blocks of turf masquerading as hash, I think of that car. It really was pretty much perfect.
Dublin band Groom are a bit like that beaten up Volkswagen Beetle. Sure, they might not be the flashiest motor on the road. Ok, so they might rattle around noisily. Sometimes they might even seem on the verge of breaking down. But ultimately they rarely disappoint you. Three years after their last release (2010’s Marriage), the band may have a few more miles on the clock (oooh, sorry) but with new EP Brothers & Sisters they prove that they’re still more than roadworthy (oooh, sorry again).
The four song effort (with each tune produced by a different member of the band) kicks off with the lilting title track, a mid-paced ballad with oblique references to childhood (“Sandwiches and annuals”), family and loss. Coloured by Mike Stevens’ yearning vocal and some lovely backing harmonies, as well as a stately guitar solo, it really is quite beguiling. ‘Fishing 1983’ (recorded by drummer Ruan Van Vliet on cassette 4-track, adding to the old-skool flavour) is an altogether more frantic effort, Van Vliet’s rollicking drums matched by some frenzied guitar riffage.
‘Wet Thursday’ is another boisterous stomp, the lyrics this time dealing with the drudgery of the life of a working stiff making his daily commute (“On this wet Thusday, the puddles do say your heart’s not here”) and features a rambunctious, knees-up pub-singalong coda. That leaves ‘Love Death & Bandaged Heads’ to close out the EP, a keyboard and piano intro leading into a bouncy guitar-led romp, as Stevens this time muses on domesticity (“I stumble through the kids’ clothes section/A thousand pink skirts, but who to fill them?”) and manages to slip in a typically sharp literary reference, this time to Yeats (“I know I’m no Maud Gonne, but get real/ Neither’s she, and that’s not poetry”).
In its blink-and-you’ll-miss-it brevity and its boisterous, raucous indie-pop songs, Brothers & Sisters recalls Stevens’ and Van Vliet’s work earlier this year in Lie Ins. In that sense, it has a familiar feel and, if it’s nothing new, at least it shows Groom sticking to what they do best – guitar pop that’s unshowy and utterly charming. A bit like that knackered old Beetle, it’s careworn but pretty much perfect. Drive on, boys. Drive on.