REVIEW: grouplove’s "healer"
“Tell your friends that you’re okay / You’re never gonna see them anyway.” Grouplove's new album marks a period of optimism and growth. ★★★☆☆
Though no musician expects to release in the middle of a global pandemic, it seems oddly fitting for Grouplove’s new album, Healer, to have come across in the midst of a world crisis. With their last album, Big Mess, released in 2017, Grouplove fans have been eagerly awaiting the release of new music for a few years, myself included. Grouplove is a musical group that knows how to make an impact; the alternative rock band stormed the world with the release of tracks like “Tongue Tied,” which became their number one single and brought them to the top of the Billboard Alternative charts. Now, at a time when the politics and wellbeing of society are causing a widespread sense of hopelessness, Grouplove emerges with an album made to shed light on American injustices and encourage optimism in its wake.
Healer takes on a sound that clearly differs from Grouplove’s usual niche of funky melancholic pop-rock, and instead offers a variety of genre and sound. Their latest album is off brand, instead coming together as a conglomerate of songs we’ve already heard from other artists. The opening track, “Deleter,” is the most Grouplove-esque, introducing heavy guitar and energetic piano similar to their work on Spreading Rumors (2012). Frontman Christian Zucconi describes “Deleter” as a song meant to bring forth questions about systems of institution and their actions. This becomes a similar theme in other tracks like “Promises,” which was written about immigrant children being held at the border. Healer takes a more direct stance on politics; the band recorded their fourth studio album at Sonic Ranch in El Paso, Texas, close to the front line of rallies, with the assistance of Dave Sitek from TV on the Radio.
As Healer progresses, the album diverges into personal growth as well as societal. “Youth,” a Tears For Fears-reminiscent synth-pop track, provides an upbeat, honest look at being young, dumb, and enjoying it. If Healer had its own 2020 version of “Tongue Tied,” this would be it. Other tracks like “Expectations" attempt a similar sound, but become disingenuous homages to youth, lacking the explosion and emotion necessary to allow listeners to relate.
The sixth track on the album, “Places,” provides a brief escape from the overall upbeat sound of Healer and shines through as a moment of pure melancholy. Soft, slow, and sparkling, this track actually had me crying through my first listen. The chorus, which cries, “I don’t think I’m coming home tonight / I don’t think I’ll ever make things right,” mixed with off-kilter harmonies and acoustic guitar creates a sad and uncertain tone for the future. Rather fitting for COVID-19 existence.
If Healer has any sort of stand out moment, it comes across in “Ahead of Myself,” sung almost solely by frontwoman Hannah Hooper. With raspy, attention-grabbing vocals and a fun, dark beat, “Ahead of Myself” is a track which discusses living it up while you still can, while still providing a darker tone. While recording “Healer,” Hannah Hooper underwent brain surgery in Phoenix, Arizona to fix a cavernous malformation she was diagnosed with back in 2014. After a severe increase in her health issues, Hooper underwent surgery and has since continued to heal in great condition. “Ahead of Myself” reflects on living life to the fullest when you might not get the chance to do so for much longer. With layering vocals and a blaring backbeat, Hooper provides herself and her fans with a mental check-in, refusing to back down from living just because things get tough.
With Healer, Grouplove attempts to create an album that focuses on their own personal growth, healing, and getting rid of negativity. At times, however, this concept becomes overzealous and actually overworked, resulting in poppy upbeat songs that should make you feel good, but leave you feeling like they’ve become try hards for a bedroom pop vibe. Though there are a few stand out tracks, they aren’t enough to truly make the album stand out. In the end, Healer becomes an album we’ve heard many times before in many different forms. ✰
Sage Enderton is a Buffalo-based poet and artist, currently majoring in Creative Writing at Buffalo State College. She is a Sagittarius moon and a lover of oat milk lattes. Her work has been featured in Peach Magazine, super/natural, and otherliterary collectives. She can be found on Instagram at @skenderton.