New Grenada doesn’t have the same dark sound that most early nineties grunge bands had, but they do have an aesthetic in common with them: they write pop songs, then distort their guitars and play them at ear-deafening levels. The disappointing thing about Energy Shortage is that New Grenada’s non-distorted tunes far outweigh their distorted ones in quality.
Songs like “Lightning Bolt” and “Modern Communication” are pop songs that wouldn’t sound much different from the Fountains of Wayne if they just dropped out the mega distortion. All the distortion serves to do is make the songs more bland; these songs are very diverse in the songwriting ideas employed, but covering half the album in a massive wall of distortion makes half of those decisions negligible.
But the other half of the album is excellent. The slow and quiet verses/wild and frantic chorus of “Years of Decay” show what can be accomplished when the wall of distortion is used sparingly. The low-fi intro to “Pitfall” makes the rest of the song great. The totally acoustic “I Hope Not” is one of the most memorable tracks here, although it can be argued that it is only so noticeable because of its starkly different surroundings, and not because of its songwriting merit. I would disagree, but it is an arguable point.
What’s not arguable is that “It Doesn’t Matter Now” is the strongest artistic statement here, combining a fuzzy sample with a clean electric guitar, accordion, saxophone and trip-hop drumming to create a song that sounds like the Rural Alberta Advantage on uppers (which is no small feat). It’s the track that hooked my ear and kept me listening. With songwriting skills this unique and interesting in their arsenal, it boggles me that the band would want to go cover everything by stomping on the distort pedal.
Energy Shortage is inappropriately named; there’s no shortage of energy anywhere on this album. Even though I’m not the biggest fan of their songwriting choices, they pull them off with an undeniable passion and energy – even the acoustic-based tracks.
New Grenada’s ten-song LP Energy Shortage is not my favorite release, but the band is talented and has a lot of songwriting skill. It will be interesting to see where they go with their next release, as they set up two distinct directions the band could go: off into the rockin’ future, or more toward their less-distorted songwriting selves. Only time will tell.