Groupoem fills the pews with Dirt Church

Groupoem 1987 at Gainsville

The story around the progressive rock act Groupoem is as offset as the synapses ‘rapidly’ firing in the head of the band songwriter, lyricist and guitarist Terry Robinson. That said, there does not seem to be anything overtly straight-ahead about the recently reformed band who decided to reunite after a 25-year hiatus and a coincidental move from the Toronto region to Vancouver for all of the original members. Armed with a story that is as intriguingly captivating as their new album Dirt Church, one gets the feeling that inspiring individual thinking is precisely the result Groupoem set out to achieve from the start.

The affable members of the Groupoem share their reasons for getting the band back together in a raw but effective mini-documentary focussed on the reunion.

The respect each member has for songwriter ‘Rubberstone’ Robinson in addition to the guitarist’s penchant for composing profoundly different and unquestionably gifted material is the uncontested catalyst for the Groupoem reprisal. However, as discerningly talented as Rubberstone is Dirt Church displays a harmony among all members of the group that makes the band much more than the sum of all its parts.  

Dirt Church is a collection of ten unreleased tracks dating back to 1987, in addition to eight new songs that Rubberstone has been brewing in his Grizelda type cauldron over the last few years. Dirt Church is a genre defying mix of progressive rock, alternative rock, classic rock, and punk rock. The band vocalist Marph has a delivery style that is part Gord Downie and the rest pure Mr. Marph Science; if his poetry conveyance does not appeal to you immediately, it will likely grow on you over the course of the first few tracks.

Half of Groupoem’s first release in 26 years went through the recording process in 1987,  soon after the outfit’s debut EP release in ‘86. The previously unreleased ten tracks make up the last half of Dirt Church, while the first eight songs are the modern day Rubberstone brainchildren.Upon speaking with Groupoem’s Darren Katamay, the bass player asserts “there are 18 tracks but 19 songs on the album. “Skulls” & “Hey Judy” segue into each other.”

Groupoem starts Dirt Church off with a highly digestible helping of “Slimfast”.  Recorded and mixed by Tim Crich, “Slimfast” eases the listener into the LP with an upbeat opening guitar riff and a catchy chorus. Saying, “I take a drink, the drink takes me”, Marph turns the first of many phrases on record with the intention of getting the wheels of the listener turning.

The obligatory anti-Donald Trump anthem “Affluenza” marks the second offering on Dirt Church, and seems to correlate with a band mindset of audibly easing the listener into Groupoem terrain. The four-piece proudly displays one of Rubberstone’s signature guitar solos on “Hall Of Shame”, a song that will grab one’s attention before and during the standout solo shred.

Groupoem is an original act, to be sure. However, as with any art with the courage to delve into the ‘bizarre’, there may be parts of Dirt Church that will challenge the listener. Marph’s unique vocal approach is no doubt the target of some critics, and while his delivery is effectual and originally his, the choice to (at times) half-attempt vocal harmonies tugs at the listener’s need for a commitment. “Flat Earth” is a prime example of Marph seemingly fence sitting on whether or not he is going to engage on a few of the harmonies.

The self-proclaimed creators of the ‘fubar music’ put together a one of a kind LP with Dirt Church. Groupoem has a signature delivery that is abrupt and can be jolting upon the onset of the record. However, the innovative sound has a peculiar way of tunneling into one’s heart at an alarmingly quick rate. The brief mini-documentary has a similar possum-type effect as the album. The first few frames of the film put off a trepidatious vibe; yet by the end of the nine minutes, one will likely find themselves rooting for the socially curious foursome.

The band is a dichotomy in the best of ways, how else could a band with a name as puzzling as Groupoem come up with a title of an album as rad as Dirt Church?