CD Review

Gropius - Two Releases

by Marcus Pan

GropiusAs I'm getting on in years and my third decade stares me down, I find myself going through another change. My musical tastes have expanded, showing me bopping my head or just proverbially floating around the living room to the likes of Zoar, Mara's Torment, The Machine In The Garden or others with a more ethereal nature. I still love darkwave, industrial and the others that those of my nature enjoy. But I'll be damned if I haven't found hours of pleasure to a bit of the lighter side of the aural fringe. Maybe it's a backlash - rediscovery of the dying instruments of classical and Victorian eras. The strings of the violin or cello, the hammered part noise part strum of the dulcimer or the breathfully crafted siren of flutes. One thing I've discovered is there aren't many things as sublime and beautiful as a well played violin solo by a great musician. A musician like Paul Mercer (The Changelings) who I've been lucky enough to see perform at Convergence IV. And again, in this case, the melancholy bow of Julie Carpenter of one of my latest finds, Gropius.

Based out of Texas, Gropius are a five-piece symphonic collection of wonderful musicians. In addition to the aforementioned Julie (who plays cello as well), there is the switching drum rhythms of Rich Sanchez. The various guitars you'll hear, like the guitar itself, bass and mandolin, are provided by James Spangler. Amy Boyd helps bolster the symphonic sound with her viola and, to take us through the poetry they produce lyrically, there is the wide-ranged vocals of Melissa Adams, who has a touch of sultriness to her pretty voice. Together they create classical-like pieces and beautiful arrangements that rival orchestras.

Gropius was an extremely unexpected find. The name seems misleading - seems harsher than the sound. But there is a Walter Gropius that is mentioned in the thank you listing, so that explains away that nuance to some degree. And although they have five members they still keep their arrangements minimal, but by the distance the instruments have from one another while played still provide a full and worldly sound. Melissa also has a strong and carrying voice that helps give it that full impression.

Songs For WalterSongs For Walter
More peeks toward the mystery man Walter Gropius, Songs For Walter is an impressive collection. All tracks have a distinct sound, so you go from one place to another. Yet they are all close enough to fit comfortably together on the same release. An unusual nature of Gropius is how all members of the quintet stand out at one point or another - it makes you want to get to know the people and not just the band. Other than Melissa's full voice, Julie's strings are strongly represented throughout the album. Her work is always bright and unexpected - refreshing you with every song and every touch. One of the faster pieces on the album, Blind Cause (#4), has all instruments pushing quickly and strongly forward through the song. Rich's drum cymbals are a guiding force. The bass line that James gives us in Abysmal (#6) should be a lesson to any bassist. The track is also fast paced like Blind Cause. The soothing quality of classical violin, cello and viola is shown in songs like Voodoo Girl (#8) and My Final Resting Place (#5). Amy's viola work on the latter is particularly lovely. The only downside comments to the entire album I can come up with lies with The Herring in the Tallest Tree (#3) which seems to be a bit sloppy in make-up and arrangement. I think it's the electric guitar that doesn't fit - it's very noisy and seems to bring too much energy to the piece. There's also the introduction, a spoken word segment, to Swich Licour (#2). I think it was a bit too long.

Penitent RosesPenitent Roses
As always, there is the question of whether a band's strongest suit is in the studio or live. Gropius show that they are quite adept at both because with the package in which Songs For Walter comes was Gropius' limited edition live album, Penitent Roses. Recorded in and around Dallas throughout the spring of 1998, the tracks provided here include five from the previous album and then Like Cockatoos originally by the Cure. The copy I received the band had all signed on the inside lower jacket and it was numbered as 76 of 200.

Gropius' sound is classical in style. Their arrangements are orchestra-like in make up and very well played by a group of talented musicians. They take you from fast and moving in one piece to soothing and melancholic in another. Melissa's voice has a husky and sultry fullness and Julie's violin is extraordinary. Classical instruments will never be replaced by digital equipment while talent like this lives on.

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