Album Review: Greys – Outer Heaven

Toronto quartet update noise rock with a fresh perspective




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    On their second album, Toronto four-piece Greys are searching for meaning. Whether it’s working to unpack identity and racism, self-doubt and mental health struggles, or breakups and frustration, Greys are constantly working to achieve some sort of resolution that seems innately unattainable. This conflict unfolds throughout 10 enthralling tracks that stagger between steady, tense slowcore and pounding, noisy cacophony.

    Greys exude a tight control of their songs, evident from the winding intro of “Cruelty” or the rhythmic pounding of “My Life As a Cloud”. Impressively, they also manage to inject their songs with a loose energy, giving off a perceived sense of messiness that adds to the chaotic tone. As strong as their quiet moments are, they’re able to go full-throttle in a truly raw sense, such as the perfunctory squall of the two-minute “In For a Penny”. The buildup and release of “It’s All the Same To You” shows the quartet’s ability to rack up the tension but also how to set it off with a sharp burst. Similar to Carpark labelmates Cloud Nothings, Greys find a sharp midpoint between the expansive dark undertones of noise rock and the driving manic energy of punk.

    Greys show a remarkable grasp of their craft in their dynamics. On “Strange World”, shimmering guitars play on top of Braeden Craig’s drumming that staggers behind the track as if it’s being dragged by the melodies. The track’s languid manner is misleading, as the guitars steadily begin to screech as if the song is about to fall apart until the band erupts into chaos for a brief moment before switching back to restraint. Greys know how to use tension with precision, a skill that made ’90s noise rock pioneers like Slint or Moss Icon so memorable. Like fellow Toronto rockers Metz, Greys can set off a powder keg as well as nervously anticipate that moment.

    (Read: CoSign: Greys Search for Melody in Mayhem)

    In our recent interview, vocalist-guitarist Shehzaad Jiwani explained that the band’s goal isn’t to just be heavy. Rather, Jiwani claimed their focus is to figure out “how to make the noise more melodic and make the melodies more dissonant.” It’s a goal that the band largely meets, from the catchy squalor of “Complaint Rock” to the unsettling melancholy of “Cruelty”, which finds Jiwani dispassionately singing about “dancing on your grave” over guitars that wouldn’t be out of place on a Red House Painters song. An interesting note came in an interview Jiwani gave with Spin, in which he noted acts like Deerhunter and The Chemical Brothers as points of comparison for songs on the record rather than the standard noise rock canon. Repetitive, entrancing melodies throughout prove him right, and it’s a testament to the band that they can recall all these seemingly disparate influences and blend them together in a way that makes sense.

    Greys operate in a genre in which it can be challenging to be truly innovative while also faithfully representing a sound. For many noise rock acts, the greatest compliment is saying that they recall a band like The Jesus Lizard, U.S Maple, or Unwound. Greys don’t want to be defined by their references. Sure, they can be curmudgeonly; the thrilling “Complaint Rock”, their update on Sonic Youth’s “Swimsuit Issue”, serves as a criticism for people who “want a gold star for showing up with an opinion on their social media.” More effective is when they adopt a unique perspective, such as the blistering “No Star”. Inspired by the tragic events at the Bataclan last November, the song chronicles Jiwani working to reconcile his feelings in the aftermath, trapped in a limbo neither identifying with his Indian heritage nor his white peers. Having to face people who fear and attack him for the color of his skin while also not feeling accepted in any group, Jiwani works to unpack complicated feelings about a layered situation through an underrepresented point of view.

    The group doesn’t always fully escape the shadows of the past that loom over them, but they provide enough spark throughout that portrays a band striving to create something different. Outer Heaven finds Greys indulging in their experimental inclinations to add color to a framework not especially prone to deviation. By challenging their listeners and pushing themselves, they manage to sound fresh by refusing to settle. Watching them work through their identity as a band offers a promising take on what an assured statement in the future would look like.

    Essential Tracks: “No Star”, “Complaint Rock”, and “Strange World”

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