There was a time when Sub Pop was pretty much a byword for screeching guitars, pummelled drums and hammered bass strings, but last year’s eponymous Fleet Foxes album changed all that. Perhaps, like the grunge generation it sound-tracked, Sub Pop has grown up. Certainly, Seattle’s Grand Archives have more in common with Robin Pecknold’s speedy vulpines than Nirvana or Mudhoney: indeed, lead Archive, Mat Brooke, was a guitarist with and founder member of fellow Seattle-dwellers, Band Of Horses.
Their second album, Keep In Mind Frankenstein is brimming over with the sweetest of harmonies, the gentlest of melodies and the most winsome tunesmithery this side of, well, Fleet Foxes and Band Of Horses, really, with a side helping of the criminally under-looked Vulgar Boatmen. It’s almost as if Teenage Fanclub were born in Omaha instead of Glasgow, and raised on Americana rather than The Beach Boys, such is the stellar class of the harmonising on offer, like the sublime -Lazy Bones’, penned by former member Ron Lewis (now part of The Shins).
The pace may be pretty pedestrian, with nothing particularly pulse-bothering, but the quality of the songwriting and musicianship is anything but. The mid-point segue from honkytonk shuffle to plaintive coda in -Witchy Park/Tomorrow Will (Take Care Of Itself)’ is one of the most stunning pieces of music State has heard this year, while we defy anyone to listen to the winsome -Oslo Novelist’ and not feel moved to melancholy or the countrified -Dig That Crazy Grave’ without raising a smile.
If we had one complaint, and it’s a minor one, it’s that Keep In Mind Frankenstein sometimes sounds a little too nice: the occasional blast of anger or flip of distortion pedal might just have served to make the sweeter moments sound all the more sugary. But then that’s the difference between bitter hacks and saccharine songwriters. Humbug.