Take away their tremolo pedals, and Growing might be a drone band; still, the genre that pops up for the Brooklyn-based two-piece in iTunes just seems off. After all, it’s not as if a film would turn into a photograph if you took away the individual frames. With their new LP, All the Way, Joe Denardo and Kevin Doria plum their synthetic musical logic – you know, the one they developed with the help of Black Dice, Spacemen 3, and a lot of time in the wilderness and on the road – more thoroughly than they ever have before. Growing’s melodic and rhythmic interplay is the accomplishment to look out for here, a mellow treat that makes one wonder if the emphasis on the transcendence of their live show misses just how successful a headphone band Growing is.
Of all the chirruping, percolating, and sweeping sounds that that make up All the Way, there are only a handful of familiar guitar timbres. It’s hard to tell what sorts of signal chains the other instruments are routed through, or what those instruments might be in the first place; Growing’s ability to crank out sounds and patterns that elude any set musical context is their secret weapon, allowing them the ability to conduct the listener’s attention through chord progressions that might seem unremarkable if presented differently. Nothing in Growing’s sound matches up, exactly: everything’s throbbing, stuttering, or glowing, but each layer floats independent of the rest. This explains why the experience of listening to All the Way bears more comparison with getting lost in a piece of op art than with listening to more narrative music – nominally experimental or no. But where op art paintings and prints deliver a visceral shock by jamming the viewer’s brain with patterns and slight, yet kinetic disruptions, Growing’s pinwheeling music sits in the brain comfortably, modulating at a strolling pace.
That’s why pointing out that “Rave Pie Only” is the album’s most extroverted and dynamic track is not to say that it’s the best. The band – less invested in sound-as-sound than sound-as-visual-element – arranges sounds in a way that palpably splits its signifying function from its textural content. One of the most fascinating qualities of the band is that their catchiest song is no more interesting than their least, in the same way that Max Ernst’s brightest painting is no more compelling than his darkest – though their medium is time-based, Growing’s music remains somehow static. Built over what would be a 4/4 beat if its other sounds cycled through it instead of zoomed over it like UFOs piloted by student drivers, “Rave Pie Only” sports an unusually bright melody that emerges from and gets eaten up by a veil of super-flat white noise and raygun squirts.
Ultimately, though, I can’t escape the feeling that there’s nothing much at stake in All the Way. Music criticism in 2008 is specially predisposed to repackaging stagnation as refinement, and substituting refinement for progress. Growing except themselves from this circuit by making music that is radically de-centered – pleasure here is degraded to such an extent that it’s hard to tell, after the album has played out, whether anything has happened at all. The dryness here has nothing to do with the experimental music clichés – it’s too academic, that there is no room for feeling – and everything to do with our generation’s stultifying insistence on tastefulness. This is what the world sounds like when everyone is a graphic designer.