A band name usually evokes something about the nature of the music it produces; in the case of Idiot Grins, one can imagine a set of songs that makes listeners grin like idiots at the sheer pleasure of listening to them.
Although it’s not certain that this is what Oakland, California-based Idiot Grins had in mind, this is the first thought that comes to mind when learning of their name. And while at times, members Michael Conner (keyboards), Evan Eustis (bass), John Hansen (vocals), Michael Melgoza (drums), and Randy Strauss (guitar) seem to have accomplished synergy between the name of their band and the music in their latest album—titled Big Man—no signature sound comes through. This means that listeners with very different tastes might find something they love in its 11 tracks.
Another name that deceives a little is “Paso Robles”; it could be named after a city in California. Or, if my friend’s Spanish is to be trusted, it might also be named after its meaning, which is “I pass oak trees”. Whichever it may be, the number sounds like nothing that either of these meanings would evoke. Rather, it’s a country tune featuring a simple guitar and drum-led melody around which twirl a piano and extra guitars.
The most unique thing about Idiot Grins’ work is how they use horns throughout their new album, released earlier this year. They go from leading songs like “How to Get to (Baltimore)” to subtle background details such as in “All Alone”.
Another interesting thing the band has done is to fit in horns in completely different-sounding numbers. In the playful rock-inspired “Poppy Piss”, the horns seem to have taken the place of the guitars one normally associated with the genre.
The up-tempo horn-led “Stack This” is all about creating a dynamic, cheerful, toe-tapping-worthy framework for a piece of art that doesn’t quite shine through, as the vocals are for the most part almost drowned out of the track. In the slow, guitar and drum-led “All Alone”, discrete horns lend gentle support to a simple melody. The song is about saying no to having an affair with one’s best friend’s brother’s wife, an act that deserves applause and pride but that instead is met with a self-deprecating and depressing thought that the protagonist only deserves to live a life alone.
Some of the most impressive horn work in the album comes into play in the soulful, energetic, mid-tempo “Hot to Get to (Baltimore)”. The song is in fact completely supported by horns, and given an extra je ne sais quoi with the help of more of them, especially with the horn solo around the two-thirds mark. It does, however, sound like the vocals have trouble keeping up, but in this case, it adds to the track instead of taking from it. The vocals in “Big Man” seem at times a little strained, perhaps as a reflection of the topic at hand. The piano-led slow tempo melody is again supported with gently placed and played horns.
In Big Man, Idiot Grins have put together tracks that span a variety of styles and genres. Some are available for streaming on SoundCloud. More information about the band is available on both their official website and their Facebook page.
Pictures provided by Independent Music Promotions.
First published on Blogcritics.