How I Won The War

The Grip Weeds

Jem Records, 2015

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Sometimes my favorite thing about an album is the lyrics, or the vocals, or the guitar riffs, or the variety and/or cleverness of the arrangements. And sometimes, as in this case, it’s something slightly more ephemeral: the vibe.

How I Won The War, in addition to borrowing its title from the film that also provided the band’s name (John Lennon famously played Private Gripweed in the 1967 film), serves as a sonic time capsule of sorts. The spacey guitars, lush three-part harmonies and slightly loopy British Invasion-on-acid dynamics immediate launch your mind back to that era. You can smell the patchouli oil, see the fringed leather vests flopping, hear the strings of beads clicking against each other, and feel the grass poking up between the toes of your bare feet… yeah.

This is the sixth studio album from Jerseyites The Grip Weeds, all in the same thrumming, slightly psychedelic, jangly power-pop vein as 1966-67 Yardbirds, Beatles, Kinks and Byrds. And while the intended homage to the original How I Won The War seems obvious, down to the jacket photos of a Lennon-like figure in army greens, the resulting set of songs feels less like a concept album or a soundtrack than simply another wallow in the late-’60s psych-rock vibe.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The album opens with fake war sounds interrupted and overridden by a menacing, rather Yardbirds riff that develops into the anthemic title track. There’s more muscular riffing between chorus and verse, and the overall retro feel is fun, but the lyric feels like somewhat of an afterthought. This, it turns out, characterizes many of the 16 tracks that follow.

Early highlights include the punchy garage-rock of “Rise Up,” the catchy, Kinks-y “Follow Me Blind,” and propulsive power-pop of “Life Saver.” These tracks in particular feature strong chorus harmonies between multi-instrumentalist brothers Kurt Reil and Rick Reil and lead guitarist Kristin Pinell.

After that fairly strong opening quartet, though, interest falls off through the middle section of the album. Every track channels 1967 with genuine craft and attention to detail, but the Grip Weeds don’t seem to have a purpose in mind beyond simply recreating this familiar sound. The lyrics tend to be vague and fall back on clichés, and the longer the album goes on, the more the group’s very distinct sound begins to feel like a cage rather than a playground. 

Just three moments really stand out the rest of the way. First is the abrupt transition when Pinell unexpectedly takes a lead vocal turn on the 12th track (“Over And Over”) and we’re suddenly transported to a light folk-rock sound in the vein of The Mamas & The Papas. It’s a curveball, but a pretty one. The other two moments both involve Pinell as well, as she adds electric sitar to spice up the otherwise predictable “Rainbow Quartz,” before dominating closer “The Inner Light” with dueling sitar lines that elevate the song to something genuinely exotic and interesting before she finishes things off with some rather flamboyant, driving closing chords.

Jefferson Airplane is another obvious point of reference for the Grip Weeds, with their psychedelic sensibilities and frequent male-female vocal interplay, though their tunes tend to have more drive and standard power-pop construction than Kantner and company’s typical fare.

How I Won The War offers a vibrant update of a familiar sound, transporting you back to a very specific and immediately recognizable era of music. What it lacks in emotional impact or sense of purpose, it at least partially makes up for with craft and enthusiasm. To paraphrase a certain Jedi master, “The vibe is strong with this one.”

Rating: B-

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