It’s impossible not to think one of two things when considering Grand Elusion’s self-titled debut set.
1) Boy, these old dudes really need to give it up. Seems like they’ve been at this music thing for years and if this is the best they can do, it would probably be smart to just save their recording money for after-show meals.
2) Hey, not sure if this is just a few high-schoolers getting together to jam every now and then, trying to find their footing, but if it is, the future sure does look bright. Yeah, it’s not great, but there’s certainly a foundation for something special that could very well grow into some type of exceptional art.
Luckily for the (mostly) Brunswick High students, the thesis in this particular instance is the latter, not the former. Eight originals. Three covers. And barely old enough to drive in the United States of America, “Grand Elusion” is a versatile if not ambitious collection of straight-forward rock that won’t reinvent the wheel but doesn’t have to. Remember: These teens are just now learning how to change a tire in the first place.
“Grateful” and “Klub Krazie” are the purest examples of as much. Taking a good minute-and-a-half to really kick in, “Grateful” features rock drum breaks not typically seen from the average high school sophomore and despite its spotty continuity, there are things to be valued in the structure (read: the way the chorus opens up; the guitar soloing that paints the bridge). “Krazie,” meanwhile, calls upon some punk-rock roots with its quicker tempo and an abstract middle section. Yeah, it’s not the tightest thing you’ve ever heard, but hey — if you had things like homework and SATs lingering around the corner, you probably wouldn’t be completely in-step with your bandmates, either.
Actually, if there’s a single element that reminds listeners of precisely how young these guys are, it would be the words tied to the music. Anybody can practice a c-minor for hours on end, but it takes real life to eventually craft some worthwhile stories or introspective lyrics. Unfortunately for the Elusion-ites, these guys simply don’t have the years behind them to come up with anything better than, “Put you in a state/ A state that ain’t so great,” as singer Noah Hawes does on the ballad “Remedy.”
But that’s the kind of stuff learned only with time. As for the current day, the best route for any aspiring musician would be to play, play, play. Play until you get better at your instrument, and then play some more. Such is why there’s something encouraging to be said for the majority of the songs that appear here.
“Sidetracked,” while completely over-indulgent and unnecessary at 12:15, showcases the group’s willingness to veer into unexpected directions. Obviously influenced by the prog-rock acts of the day before their day (Rush, Pink Floyd), the boys show signs of eventual greatness in their skill with head-turning guitar solos and textbook drum runs. If they would have picked just four of the melodies here and made four different songs, the results could have been as good as french fry day in the cafeteria (sorry, couldn’t resist).
Plus, it’s imperative the boys earn points for taking a stab at reggae with “Forever.” Despite drummer Brandon Bargo’s need to spend some time with a few Wailers records, you can’t deny the raw knack for melody Grand Elusion has as the track’s sunny-smooth verses sound as professional as local music gets and its and multiple-part vocal harmonies add a tasteful touch to a well-thought original. It’s a stark departure from Ozzy’s “Mr. Crowley” and The Floyd’s classic “Have A Cigar” — both appear here, complete with serious shredding — but they make it work nonetheless.
Which says something. Or, really, it says a lot. Because if there’s one word to describe Grand Elusion and this set of songs, it would be determined. Determined to impress. Determined to thrive. Determined to exist. And as sophomores and juniors in high school, even they should know that half their battle isn’t necessarily getting good at driving the car; rather, it’s making a high priority out of getting on the road at all.
With this collection, it’s clear they’ve passed driver’s ed. But as anyone who has ever logged their fair share of miles in a motor vehicle could tell you, the distance between a classroom and the DMV is rivaled only by the distance between basements and stadiums. All that’s left is for Grand Elusion to kick themselves into a higher gear.
Colin McGuire is a writer and page designer at the News-Post as well the music reviews editor at PopMatters.com. His blog, TV Without A TV, can be found at blog.fredericknewspost.com. Want your album reviewed by the FNP? Email 72Hours@newspost.com for details.