The tough, mercurial noise-pop songs recorded by the Brooklyn band now called Grooms are a refined version of those made under their previous name Muggabears, if not stylistically altered enough to demand the switch in nomenclature. A fully formed debut is sexier than gradual growth and revision, though, and Rejoicer makes the most of its second chance at a first impression. The record was made with a raised talent level on both sides of the microphone. Producer Jeremy Scott (Vivian Girls, These Are Powers) and mixer Nicolas Vernhes (Silver Jews, Animal Collective) make the band's shaggy constructions sound remarkably crisp and precise. New drummer Jim Sykes (Marnie Stern, Parts & Labor) commands attention amid the ever-shifting guitar squall. But it wouldn't be such a breakout if the holdovers, singer/guitarist Travis Johnson and bassist/backing vocalist Emily Ambruso, didn't elevate as well. As a "new" band, Grooms are awfully impressive.
While "noise-pop" has been a common descriptor for the current yield of Brooklyn guitar groups, it has more often just meant that traditional, even conservative, song structures have been blanketed in fuzzy squawking. Rejoicer is full of strange tangents and surprise eruptions, cobbling together catchy blasts from broken textures, rather than junking up the old verse-chorus-verse. It's the sort of dark, inscrutable, yet ultimately lovable college radio/older brother record that has been in surprisingly short supply lately. Too many of the big guitar hopes this year, like Cymbals Eat Guitars or Japandroids, say, have felt simple and thin for their bigness; yearbook quotes blown-up to feature length. Grooms, thankfully, can't be filed under the same nebulous "anthemic" tab. The lingering Sonic Youth comparison, apt as it might be, doesn't feel quite right either. A recent interview revealed that sweetly bruised standout "Acid King of Hell (Guitar Feelings)" was named after a younger brother's video game avatar, and not in reference to its trippy face-breaking guitar meltdowns. Rasped lines like, "We've seen invention from the tip of a ship, and today it looks like a busted lip," smack of the same sort of inexplicable specificity. The songs are consistently memorable, not for a repetitive chorus, but for brief, pummeling instrumental bits and odd turns of phrase that stick in memory long after departing. These tracks often end up in different places than they start, leaving the listener pleasantly confused as to the path they just followed. Rejoicer isn't cuddly and relateable. It's just good.