Debut EPs are tricky. By definition they are first impressions, but they only capture a band’s earliest efforts, which makes them fragile. They’re also small-serving packages, just the barest of tastes, and often unsatisfying, even at their best. The members of Kansas City’s Golden Groves obviously understand those pitfalls, and they’ve artfully stacked their debut, Ideas, with a little bit of everything they can do.
The resulting EP will be a perfectly paced half-hour set when they open for someone huge. It’s all here — the first song that throws down an identity, a few extremely catchy songs to keep things moving when newly grabbed listeners stream in, an acoustic ballad (way more than a mere breather) to show their quieter side, and then the monster closing song (the Afropop-fueled “Stranger”).
Producer Jim Barnes has captured the band’s spaciousness and flexibility. With splashes of The Darkness, Franz Ferdinand, The Alarm and dozens of others, Golden Groves’ sound is arena-ready, right now.
In the opening “Gold,” lead vocalist Isaac Hodges sets up a persona that tiptoes the tightrope between charm and smarm. Like a Midnite Vultures-era Beck, Hodges pulls off an introduction of “Hello, ladies. Hello, women of all kinds” with a sly smile. He proceeds to deliver a song about pulling himself off the market, an announcement that he’s found “the one who’s going to change my life.” The gleeful, ego-drenched presumption that women need to be aware of this somehow winds up sweet, with a winning confidence that easily could have been cringeable.
That same swaggering guy is also audible in the highly danceable (and single-minded) title track, an urgent declaration of a man’s simultaneous infatuation with both her “high heels” and her “high ideals” (and “ideas”). The song gradually whirls into a literate, careful storm of lust. Dylan Nelson’s lead guitar, both warm and brittle, makes Hodges’ “Shake it, baby, I just cannot help how I feel” an answerable call instead of a catcall.
That swagger stretches to the breaking point in the expansive, chiming “Forgiveness.” The narrator acknowledges that “Sometimes I might rub people the wrong way,” but even that self-awareness doesn’t temper his demand for forgiveness from someone who’s obviously not up to it. He truly, and desperately, needs her to forgive him, but the man is impossibly bossy about it. At one point, Hodges stretches out the word “obsessions” into roughly a dozen syllables, and with that one word, we know she is so out the door.
The quieter, near-acoustic, “Got A Lot On My Mind” takes their storytelling closer to non-fiction. When Hodges sings “Got a lot on my mind/A lot on my heart,” he’s seemingly dropping all veils, and his request to “Push me all my way before my talk gets cheap” promises there are a lot of down-to-earth stories these guys could tell.
KCUR contributor Mike Warren has written for a variety of local and national music publications, including No Depression. Follow him @MikeWarrenKC.