Growing began their lives as a drone outfit with a penchant for unexpectedly breaking into ominous, looming riffs. It made for a nice contrast — bliss into bone-shakingly heavy section, a cross-section of ambient and metal that didn’t seem self-conscious about its aims. From those beginnings, they’ve evolved, sometimes along logical lines — a professed fondness for the music of La Monte Young and sonic comparisons to Christian Fennesz — and sometimes not. Following 2008’s All the Way, Pumps finds the group breaking elements of drone down and reassembling them along much more rhythmic lines.
At times, like on the opener “Short Circuit,” this change in style recalls circa-2000 Black Dice. Elsewhere, when the beats emerge from fuzzed-out guitar sounds to a much greater extent, the depth becomes something more. “Challenger” opens to a tempo that recalls dancehall, and the distant, booming bass of “Highlight” contrasts well with the nimbler notes skipping across the foreground. It’s a use of space and lower frequencies that recalls, more than anything else, Kevin Martin’s forays into the low end with the Bug and King Midas Sound.
What emerges from these eight songs is a freewheeling spirit, a willingness to delve into numerous sonic spaces and move outside an easily classifiable comfort zone. That sense of play, also suggested by song titles like “Drone Burger,” is highly rewarding when this album is at its most dynamic. Unfortunately, it also leads to a moment towards the end of Pumps that threatens to upend the stylistic balance that Growing has achieved.
Throughout Pumps, Growing makes liberal, effective use of voices. They drift in and out of the mix, words hardly audible, as chopped-up and reconstituted as any other element of their music. For the album’s closing number, “Mind Eraser,” those voices eventually become more cohesive, crying out “It’s my mind!” and “It’s my brain!” It recalls the nursery-rhyme vocals at the end of Love’s “The Red Telephone” — an element that’s a little too literal amidst an otherwise impressionistic work. The rest of the song, a swirling number with a relentless, blurred rhythm, is eight-plus minutes of sonic paranoia; the vocals bring in a quality that’s more B-movie than Inland Empire.
This is hardly a fatal flaw. It’s more that its placement on the album leaves Growing closing on a problematic note rather than an effective one. The stylistic ground covered on Pumps is a logical progression for Growing and leaves them with a number of interesting places to go from here.