Grown Up Avenger Stuff: Alive

Alive

C+

What is it about superheroes and late ’90s alternative rock? Watch basically any Marvel movie and you’ll hear a veritable who’s-who of cacophonous, edgy rock from a decade past (I mean, Soundgarden reunited for the Avengers soundtrack!). That’s a match-up I never quite understood. When you think of costumed do-gooders, two things come to mind musically: silly, not-so-great novelty acts like Ookla the Mok that use their whispy voices to sing about comic books over paper-thin production, and overly complex prog rock a la Rush or Coheed and Cambria, two acts with space opera epics that no doubt have sipped at least a little from Jack Kirby’s cup.

And yet we have Grown Up Avenger Stuff, a four-piece rock act from Charlotte, NC and a fascinating, somewhat difficult band to comprehend. Many elements about them display their enthrallment with superheroes: their name, their tagline (“Your friendly neighborhood rock band with super powers”), their mission statement (“dedicated to saving the world one rock song at a time”). But unlike Ookla the Mok and unlike Coheed, whose music clearly relates to the four-color press, GUAS has taken the Marvel route. And, much like my thoughts towards any Marvel Studios soundtrack, I’m not sure it works.

Yes, there are gaudy, fun and comic book-y elements to GUAS, from their press photos to the lyrics to their song “Perfect,” which talks about a machine that will bestow someone with godlike powers – that’s an homage to the Silver Age of comics if I ever heard one. But GUAS tops that all with a thick layer late ’90s alternative rock. There is an undeniably heavy edge to GUAS’s newest EP, Alive (their second recording overall) – the spirit of Evanescence thrives in this mix of clamorous guitars, thumping bass and thundering drums, not to mention the sharp vocals of singer Deirdre Kroener. The opening of the first track, “Morning Noon and Night,” says it all – dominating guitar feedback is interrupted by a Jimmy Chamberlain-esque drumbeat, while a bassline reminiscent of Queens of the Stone Age propels the rhythm. It’s a cool musical mix in the moment, but is it ‘superhero’?

The best track on Alive is probably “Here,” the one with the most major-key feel and thus, in a sense, the most fitting. This track allows the four musicians of GUAS to really show their stuff; on this album and this track in particular, the three instrumentalists (all brothers) really impress. Guitarist John Thomsen pulls off some great licks; drummer Tyler Thomsen never lets up; and bass player Hunter (S? probably not) Thomsen often drives the songs with his potent low-end sounds (he does some scale-running in this song that really pops). Unfortunately, singer Kroener is really high in this album’s mix, drowning out the instruments a bit; the group would sound better if she blended with her bandmates a little more.

It’s just hard to shake the feeling that there’s an inherent contradiction to GUAS. Yes, they rock, albeit in a way that’s mostly a throwback to a decade-plus ago, so if you’re not jonesing for a heavy alternative fix, this disc probably isn’t for you. But more importantly, what’s with all the superhero imagery? Something about those visuals with that audio just doesn’t jibe, and it seems like the band should either ditch their personae or embrace their image sonically. Perusing their website indicates that they’ve racked up a ton of accolades from playing live at numerous festivals and clubs across the country, so maybe they’re a group you just have to experience in person to understand. As it is, this non-stop alternarock, even though it’s played well, seems out of place.

tags: Grown Up Avenger Stuff

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