The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

Grownass Man: A review

Success affords musicians lots of opportunities. In Justin Vernon’s case, it gave him the chance to step away from the growing monster that is Bon Iver and into his rock band The Shouting Matches.

Thanks to Vernon’s towering stature in the indie rock community, The Shouting Matches played at this year’s Coachella Festival. The band has existed for several years, but played only sparingly before this year and just put out its first proper release, the full-length “Grownass Man.”

The band, made up of Vernon, Phil Cook and Brian Moen, don’t do anything innovative or original on “Grownass Man,” and that’s part of the appeal. The record has a tossed-off feel that makes it charming and accessible. Vernon and his bandmates are clearly having a great time playing these songs, which makes it hard to not have a great time listening to them.

Vernon trades the falsetto and spacious productions he became known for in Bon Iver for a bluesy howl and a straightforward bar rock sound with his new group. The opener, “Avery Hill,” moves along with an easy stomp and sets the tone for the record.
None of this is essential, the song seems to suggest, but you’re going to enjoy it.

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The guitars and drums are the musical stars of almost every track, with organ and harmonica added on several songs for an extra layer of soul. Despite the blues rock of “Grownass Man,” the record is well-produced and may be perhaps a bit too polished. Music like this should have some dirt to it, but most of that seems to have been scrubbed away.

But that’s a minor qualm for songs this infectious. “Seven Sisters” is a knockout, with a riff straight out of the Rolling Stones’ playbook and Vernon’s blue-eyed soul vocal delivery of lyrics about romantic failure. “Mother, When?” is a tale about a dysfunctional, alcoholic family.

“Gallup, NM” features guitar lines that meander over Moen’s shuffling drums. Moen’s drumming is one of the finest parts of the record, alternately pounding and restrained but always noticeable.

There is an undercurrent of gospel influence throughout the record, which is most evident on tracks such as “New Theme” and album closer “I Need A Change.” “New Theme” swells with backing and call-and-response vocals and heavy organ, while “I Need A Change” is a soulful slow burn about a relationship no longer benefiting either person.

Make no mistake: this record sounds nothing like Bon Iver. The lyrics are far less abstract, the vocals clearer and louder and the guitars plugged in and turned up. Fans who worried about a change in Vernon’s sound after he announced the Bon Iver hiatus could have a hard time warming up to this record.

But for people interested in Vernon’s next career move, “Grownass Man” proves to be the most immediately enjoyable record he has made. It may not be important or unforgettable, but it’s a blast from start to finish.

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Grownass Man: A review