The Grassy Knoll

Verve Records, 1996


REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


The Grassy Knoll seems like one of those bands that only could have happened in the 1990s. Nascent trip-hop beats, electric guitar solos, acid jazz, and a sense of doing something different and fun pervades this disc. Things would get a little bit weirder on III, but on this, the band’s second album, it’s easy to get lost in the styles and moods of each song.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

There isn’t necessarily a cohesion to the album, but each song still utilizes the same approach: find a midtempo groove and hook that works, ride it for four minutes with varying solos and perhaps a goofy jump-cut bridge, then fade out. No vocals, of course. So if you don’t like how a song starts, you won’t like how it ends, but the variety of textures still make it worthwhile if you feel like listening to something a little different.

To that end, it’s tricky to review a disc like this, since it’s so dependent on whether the individual listener enjoys the particular groove. But to a man, each song is cool and deliberate, with elements of funk and grunge rock burbling throughout the mix. “1961” is an easy highlight no matter who you are, though, with saxophone parts that both lurk and soar, while the chunky dominating riff of “Black Helicopters” opens the disc in the listener’s face.

The beauty of Positive is in how it subverts what could easily be termed background music or film soundtrack music, although much of this could indeed work in a jumpy conspiracy movie (certainly, the song titles are already primed for the next issue of The Lone Gunmen (if you get the reference, you’re a true ‘90s buff too). The jazz influence allows for some soloing within each song, never to the point of overdoing it, but never quite predictable either.

And even if the songwriting approach doesn’t vary, anything that cites Bitches Brew as an influence but adds dark trip-hop beats is bound to be fascinating even at its worst. Fortunately, such nadirs are rare on Positive; unfortunately, the emphasis on mood and groove supersede truly memorable hooks. The net effect is that you may not spin this one all that often, but you’ll be transported when you do.

Rating: B-

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