One of the first articles I ever wrote for the Niner Times was a review of the 2016 album "Big Mess" by Los Angeles-based indie rock band Grouplove. A beautiful and chaotic concoction of compiled memories from the band members and satirical remarks on the time's socio-political climate, the album explored everything from parenthood to finding your own peace of mind in an increasingly complicated world. Four years later, the band exited the year 2020 with another exciting LP under their belt, which equally reflected the frustrating and often uncertain times we live in, while also acting as a personal source of comfort and reassurance for the band. "Healer" was released on March 13, just as the COVID-19 pandemic was beginning to effectively shut down the music industry, among numerous other things. Nevertheless, the album made it out into the ether and channeled the insane feelings of the world on the precipice of a global health crisis and the personal trials of Grouplove themselves. Filled with passionate and riotous tracks which eventually smoothed out into delicate ballads of reflection, the record saw the band trying to make sense of reality in flux, a reality that needed far more healing than it ever needed before.
Despite it being around the first anniversary since "Healer" dropped, I am here to instead talk about the surprise fifth LP from the group, "This Is This." While "Healer" was about Grouplove's personal reckoning with a messed-up reality and an unexpected pandemic, "This Is This" sees them coming together and finding their sound once again after more than six months apart. In a record that's far rougher around the edges than their previous work, even for a band that often blends soaring pop instrumentals with bombastic punk vocals, the surprise LP finally lets the band breathe a long and satisfyingly pumped-up sigh of relief. Despite there still being issues globally, the band doesn't feel the need to react or critique the society around them here. It becomes clear fairly quickly that this record is simply about the band joining together from a prolonged absence from their creative outlet and just making some music. Whatever the result of that musical reunion was, however honest or vulnerable it became, Grouplove intended to share it.
Even as the nine-track album traverses themes of isolation and confusion in response to the pandemic that divided the band shortly after the release of "Healer," Grouplove's latest isn't strictly tethered to those themes. For many of their past records, the group consisted of vocalist couple Hannah Hooper and Christian Zucconi, bassist Daniel Gleason, guitarist Andrew Wessen and drummer Benjamin Homola, striving to stitch some truth or feeling to each album as a whole. With "This Is This," there is a renewed sense of freedom present that isn't set under any agenda. The music is simply the band shedding the pressures of the past year and rocking out. That renewed self-expression finds the band trusting itself and its audience more than it has ever done, making for a high-energy record that doesn't have to live up to anything that came before it. The group's infectious punk sensibilities kick off right away in the album opener "Primetime," carrying into the equally apocalyptic and optimistic "This Is The End." While I typically lean towards their more anthemic pop tracks, which emerge in songs like "Scratch" and "Just What You Want," it is in the tracks where vocalist Hannah Hooper takes the reins and really makes the songs her own that I found to be the most compelling from the album. The thunderous "Seagulls" dissolves into a softer reprieve in "Oxygen Swimming," a song much more representative of the earlier, melancholic tracks of the band's career. Ending on "Shout," a heartfelt howler that encourages its listeners to shake off the uncertainty and desolation around them and just "let it all out," you can see the journey Grouplove intends to share with us. It is a journey of recapturing what you've lost, traversing the messy parts of life and yourself, and just doing what you love.