CD Review of Gravity Won’t Get You High by The Grates

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Gravity Won’t Get You High
starstarstarno starno star Label: Cherry Tree
Released: 2006
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The Yeah Yeah Yeahs broke the door down for woman-fronted punk/indie-rock bands. Karen O. and her bandmates are probably the best female-led punk band since Blondie, and might be the best female-led rock band since Siouxsie and the Banshees. It’s because of this that many other punk/indie bands automatically (and unfairly) get compared to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs simply because of the gender of their singer. First it was Be Your Own Bet, whose insane noise-pop ramblings and spastic vocals have next-to-nothing in common with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and now it’s the Grates, who melodic and eclectic sound would never be compared to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs if it wasn’t for the fact that their lead singer happens to sport a vagina.

The Australian-based trio’s debut LP, Gravity Won’t Get You High, is an uneven but promising set of tracks that range from frenetic punk rock to country-tinged clap-a-longs. The opening song “I Won’t Survive” even has a slight operatic sound behind it, as lead singer Patience Hodgson belts out simple child-like rhymes in a wavering bellow of a voice that could almost fit in at the Sydney Opera House. Contrasting it are sparse feedback-drenched guitar riffs, creating a bizarre mix of melodic pop and spastic noise that fills the rest of the album.

The Grates are from Australia, and it definitely shows. While impossible to explain, nearly all bands from Down Under share an indefinable something in common. Whether it’s Midnight Oil, AC/DC or even Split Enz, they all have a specific grittiness or dirtiness that ties them together. It’s true with almost anything from Australia, take the films “Mad Max” and “The Piano,” for example. While they may have nothing immediately in common (although “The Piano” would’ve been a hell of a lot more entertaining if it had at least one decent car chase in it), they both were directed by Australians, and share a similar and unique feel. You can even see it in Australian-born actors such as Russell Crowe or Hugo Weaving. There is just something about Aussies that make them entirely different from everything else.

So, while the Grates don’t sound anything like recent Australian rockers the Living End or Wolfmother, they share that Australian quality that makes their music energetic and unique. Songs like “Trampoline,” a child-like ode to fucking so hard you bounce of the bed, or fiddle-back love song “Sukkafish,” are the best examples of this.

It’s when The Grates’ deviate from that indefinable Down Under sound that things start to sound sour. The second track, “Lies,” is a boring power-pop tune that sounds like a rejected OK Go song, and most mid-tempo numbers like “Science Is Golden” are amazingly uninteresting.

Luckily, missteps like those are the exception and not the norm.”19-20-20” and “Howl” are two amazingly fast-paced and frenetic songs that have the potential to get stuck in your head for hours. The Grates’ can even-pull off the dreaded mid-tempo rock-ballad with some level of success with “Rock Boys,” which starts out slow and bland but gradually saves itself thanks to the monstrous voice of Hodgson.

It may be imperfect and suffer from a few slow spots, but the Grates obviously show enough potential and originality on Gravity Won’t Get You High to break free of comparisons to other girl-led bands. If they can get a little more consistent, they could be one of the best things to come out of Australia since Nicole Kidman.

~James B. Eldred