Some bands curate an intentionally old-school sound, while others take that sound and make it fit right in with today’s world. Indie rockers Gringo Star describe themselves as “insouciant explorers,” and their sound bears that out, digging through the past for inspiration. That tendency continues, the Atlanta outfit fusing classic rock touchstones with modern indie and garage rock on their latest, The Sides and in Between.
The roots of Gringo Star’s sound come from brothers Peter and Nick Furgiuele’s conversations with their grandfather, who was playing R&B on the radio back in the days of segregation in the ’40s and ’50s. They got a slight update in the studio from Grammy award-winning producer Ben Allen, the producer behind their first two albums, 2008 debut All Y’all and 2011’s Count Yer Lucky Stars. On Floating Out To See, the Furgiuele brothers went out on their own and experimented further with a garage rock twist.
For The Sides and In Between, Gringo Star try to have a little bit of both: a throwback to early rock ‘n’ roll and a kick of grunge. Despite the push-and-pull of those diverging elements, their songs wrap up in brief, three-minute packages. This works in Gringo Star’s favor, allowing them to focus on simple ideas rather than drawing it out any further than it needs to.
Album opener and early single “Rotten” brims with catchy, repetitive guitar riffs, setting the stage for the bouncy pop rock experience. Lyrically, they try to indulge a rebellious “us vs. them” feeling stylized as a jukebox jam you’d pay for at a milkshake bar: “They don’t care what you said / You’ve gone and raised the dead everywhere.” The album sounds like it could be the soundtrack for a movie about a group of high schoolers, caught in Anytime USA. The fourth track, “Still Alive”, is particularly reminiscent of a live band stirring up commotion at a prom, Jitterbugging and infuriating the principal. It’s a strange pose, one that doesn’t always work, but an interesting choice nonetheless.
While Gringo Star got a hand up from a Grammy-winner early on, they seem to be better off producing their music on their own. Since gaining a following from years of touring, they’re now able to take risks and push boundaries with their sound without fear of losing their identity. That doesn’t mean all of the risks pay off, but it’s an inspiring thing to hear a band unafraid to gamble with safe formulas.
Gringo Star bring an old-school sound to a new age era, combining the two in such a way that you could imagine driving a vintage Volkswagen bus while streaming the songs from an iPhone. More than anything, though, The Sides and in Between is an honest attempt at reviving rock ‘n’ roll, transforming it without the cheesy “those were the days” vibe.
Essential Tracks: “Rotten”, “Still Alive”, and “Going Home”