Exposure: David Grubbs
- Jonny Ensall
- 19 January 2009
David Grubbs - Holy Fool Music
Stupidity has become something of a trend. The charts are awash with artists who tread a finely ironic line between affected emotional naivety and actual brain dead sexual emptiness. David Grubbs, on the other hand, is a Brooklyn-based musical renaissance man whose output is not only cerebral, but still with enough of a listenable, pop-edge to be good for everyone – smart or less smart.
David Grubbs, a bit like David Gray?
Sadly for White Ladder fans, not at all. Though his uninspiring name might not suggest it, Grubbs has been an American musical innovator since his early teens; the lynchpin of so many influential avant-garde bands it's easy to lose count. He started out in Louisville, Kentucky as guitarist in high school thrash outfit Squirrel Bait, putting out one now legendary album, Skag Heaven. He then moved to Chicago to complete his PhD in English (explaining the frequency and obscurity of his literary references) before taking part in bands Bitch Magnet, Bastro, Gastr De Sol, Red Krayola… the list goes on.
A jack of all trades then?
A professor of them actually. Grubbs holds an assistant professorship at Brooklyn College, City University of New York, co-coordinating studies in performance and interactive media arts. He's also a committed label owner (Blue Chopsticks) and a prolific cultural collaborator, lending his music to an array of poets, artists and filmmakers.
Sounds like hard work. I might just skip class and listen to my Katy Perry CDs.
You'll regret it. Grubbs is not an obscure post-modernist for people smart enough to listen to dissonant music; his albums are full of all the familiar elements of good, traditional pop and rock, albeit mixed up a little. He combines sensitive guitar parts, merry pop songs, driving rock riffs, minimal soundscapes and simple, affecting lyrics to make albums that are at once both visceral and ethereal, and still albums rather than concept dirges. The Spectrum Between (2000) and Rickets and Scurvy (2002) are the most accessible starting points for an aspiring Grubbs-ite.
I only listen to music made post-Arctic Monkeys. What's he done recently?
It was a four-year wait for latest release An Optimist Notes The Dusk (2008) but it hasn't disappointed. It's the same delicate guitar work and tender lyrics, spiced up with the odd proper rock song, but this time layered over with more sinister tones. Frequent collaborators Michael Evans and Nate Wooley have stepped in to give experimental texture, providing rolling drum breaks and angular saxophone stabs respectively. Experimental, yes, but these are still rock songs, with drive and purpose, ready to yank you by your apathetic earlobe and teach you a sonic lesson.
Yes sir, indeed. This guy has curbed the American scene for 30-years, putting his hand into everything from punk and hardcore to post-rock and minimal sound. Show some respect.
Mono, Glasgow, Wed 21 Jan