Sunday, December 28, 2008

Review: Gramercy Arms - Gramercy Arms (* * * 1/2)

Gramercy Arms is easily the quietest (press-wise) "supergroup" to come around in some time. That's probably for the best, as that label tends to bode poorly for projects that receive special attention; Velvet Revolver, anyone? According to their website, the New York collective is currently comprised of members of "Guided By Voices, Luna, Joan as Police Woman, Dead Air and The Dambuilders, along with comic Sarah Silverman." That's quite a list and a diverse one as well, but the group's sound is focused and straightforward despite the number of musicians (and comediennes) involved. Their self-titled debut album, recently released digitally in the US with a retail release in March, is a classic pop record full of snappy tunes with bright, sunny melodies.

For the majority of the album, Gramercy Arms channel the spirit of pop folk groups like Simon & Garfunkle, The Byrds, and (of course) The Beatles. "Looking At The Sun," with hand claps and simple harmonies (by Silverman, of all people) is catchy and fun, "Shining Bright" grooves along with singer/bassist Rainy Orteca's smooth melody and some great guitar work, and "Automaton" is a familiar, yet welcome, slice of pure pop. The opening track, "Automatic," feels like the only actual stylistic departure on Gramercy Arms, a New Pornographers-esque song with a driving guitar line and group vocal chorus that quickly became a favorite.

Gramercy Arms feels remarkably (and probably deceptively) easy, like the group just got together and out came songs which they simply recorded, produced, and put on a disc. In many ways it makes for an enjoyable listen by eliminating all the over-the-top crap that too often accompanies this kind of project. However, whereas many supergroups seem to be trying too hard, occasionally this album feels as if the group played things a little too safe. There's nothing wrong with tunes like "Since Last September" or "I Believe," but they don't stick with you or differentiate themselves from myriad other 70s-influenced pop songs. I suppose that's tough criticism, but you might expect more from such a collection of musicians.

Still, Gramercy Arms is an enjoyable pop record that's easy on the ears and retains its listenability upon repeated spins. With a supposedly revolving (or evolving) lineup, I'll be interested to see what direction the band heads toward for their next outing.

Check out Gramercy Arms' MySpace Page or Hompage for songs and information.