Attendance for last Tuesday’s Grounders show at the Media Club initially looked grim. 15 minutes past the 9 p.m. start time, only about 20 people stood and sat near the room’s fringes in scattered clusters – including band members.
But those who bothered showing up early were either just plain lucky or lucky to have already known about one of Vancouver’s finer hidden gems, Soft Serve.
The sweet quartet mixed the lightest psychedelia with propulsive drumming and shimmering riffs. They delivered their watery textured pop-rock with a loose C86 swagger. Their spirit was positive and uplifting all around. The only parts of their performance that weren’t soft were their numerous snappy song-endings. One second, listeners cruised along to glistening, summery images in their minds. The next, Soft Serve slammed on the brakes, bringing the trip to an end.
Recent Mint Records signees Fake Tears began their set the same way their debut album, Nightshifting, starts: with a sustained but subtly modulating synth line. The duo showed off their heavenly side on “You Want the Light”, but they gave into their darker, more danceable inclinations during the rest of their performance.
Although members Larissa Loyva and Elisha May Rembold only employed dual microKORGs, a backtracked tambourine found its way into the mix, kicking off the glamorous-by-night “Second Wind”. The duo drifted back to a celestial mood with “Small Fires”, a track that feels as good to sink into as a pillowy cloud.
Loyva and Rembold are both experienced musicians: Loyva as a solo act and a touring member of Destroyer and How to Dress Well; Rembold as the leader of folk-rockers Lost Lovers Brigade and a member of the shoegazing Shimmering Stars. But Fake Tears’ greatest strength is Loyva and Rembold’s harmonies. Although, the most intriguing moment of the duo’s set was when they recited futuristic dialogue in synchronized robotic voices on the dystopian “Uncanny Valley”. This song was also their tightest balancing act between ominousness and danceability.
By the time Grounders took the stage, their fans had arrived – as did a couple of spill-over AC/DC fans who hopped across the street from BC Place. (Although, singer/guitarist Andrew Davis still had to beckon everyone to move closer to the stage.)
Experimentation is in Grounders’ DNA, but on their self-titled debut LP, they’ve tapped into their mutual love of classic pop. Melodies and lush designs take precedent over free-falls into cycling electronics and floating drums – Grounders coolly rolled through “Vyvanse”, their most straightforward song, with a classic guitar riff that curls with string-bends.
But from there, Grounders stretched and twisted even their poppiest numbers with the band’s inherent Krautrock and psych tendencies. Songs like “Bloor Street and Pressure” packed Roland flourishes, robust bass, and twirling, chirping electronics mixed with screeching noise – not quite a Jesus and Mary Chain assault but electrifying nonetheless. “Secret Friend”, which is Grounders at their poppiest, stuck to bold, crisp synth-bounce, with nothing to cloud the audience’s visions of sunny skies.
Grounders closed with “Face Blind”, a song filled with laser-beam keys and choppy New Wave guitars. They descended into a frantic breakdown where, even amidst all the chaos from Davis, bassist Mike Dearle, and guitarist Evan Lewis, the keyboard affects were clean and clear as Daniel Busheikin knelt underneath his keyboard and twisted knobs, flicked switches, and carried out whatever other motions were necessary to conjure the bright sounds that swirled overhead.
Straddling an old love of classic music and more adventurous creative impulses can be a tough balancing act, and although the show could have been better attended, Grounders have certainly found their footing.