Greys’ latest album is the sound of a band hellbent on moving forward while trying to both process the present and reconsider the past.
Madonna’s “Beautiful Stranger” and The Chemical Brothers.
According to Greys frontman Shehzaad Jiwani, these are the influences that informed “These Things Happen”, the punishing lead single from their new record Age Hasn’t Spoiled You. Now, upon listening to the song for the first time, third time, or tenth time, you probably won’t make those connections. It’s not like it blatantly conjures The Spy Who Shagged Me soundtrack or big-beat electronica, but there are fragmentary moments where both Madonna’s William Orbit-era and The Chemical Brothers’ euphoric waves of sound peak through the song’s heavy curtains of distortion and feedback. The comparisons are difficult to grasp firmly; you feel as if you think too much about them, they’ll slip away into absurdity. However tenuous, though, they are there.
I find it fascinating how Jiwani talks about the influences behind his band’s music so acutely. It reveals a very meaningful aspect of how he and his band relate to the music they love and how it informs their songwriting. There is a clear preoccupation with harnessing and creating musical moments. These moments can basically be anything — small parts, sounds, textures, instrumental flourishes, production tricks, or the cadence of a single vocal run. They’re ephemeral musical fragments we instinctively latch onto that can signify certain artists, whole genres, and entire eras. The effect is subtle and difficult to define. Rather than drawing a direct comparison between artist x and artist y, it’s more like experiencing a music-specific form of deja vu, in that hearing them in different contexts is thrilling, inexplicable, and nostalgic. It’s a brief window into the strange mechanisms of memory and the involuntary connections that it’s capable of making under music’s intoxicating influence.
When I listen to Age Hasn’t Spoiled You, I hear an album nuanced with little moments plucked from encyclopedic musical minds. They’re everywhere: the way Colin Gillespie’s melodic bass underpins Jiwani’s accented delivery of “part of this useless generation!”; the ping-pong delay on the snare in “Aphantasia”; the impossibly emotive guitar leads on “Burning Chrome”; “I woke up screaming!’. Whereas Greys has always been a band that has leaned on their influences, these moments don’t feel derivative. Instead, they’re abstract touchpoints that connect these songs to a kaleidoscopic history of guitar music, electronica, hip-hop, ambient music, experimental pop, and the avant-garde. It’s how trace amounts of Madonna, The Chemical Brothers, Blur, and a slew of other late-90s sounds can radiate so briefly and brightly during “These Things Happen”. The frequency of these moments makes Age Hasn’t Spoiled You a truly compelling listen. But what makes it Greys’ best record, and one of the best records of the year thus far, are the brilliant, inventive songs that bridge these moments together.
For a noise-rock band who have evidently grown tired of that label, Age Hasn’t Spoiled You is both a bold leap forward and natural progression. In a revealing interview with the FADER, Jiwani mentions how he became “exhausted and uninspired” by the guitar music he was hearing. The urge to both experiment and break away from the band’s formative sound was already evident before the beginning of this album cycle. Both 2016’s Outer Heaven and its companion record Warm Shadow contained the all hallmarks of a guitar band itching to branch out and reinvent itself. And branch out they did. After taking a hiatus from touring towards the end of 2016, members eventually joined other projects, produced records, and put out solo albums. And while these are often necessary steps for bands to take, this period also happened to coincide with a prolonged onslaught of instability. Tellingly, the band’s final show of 2016 landed just before Trump was elected to office. But the disillusionment didn’t just come from chaos south of the border. Jiwani talks about how Toronto’s unrelenting gentrification has rendered his hometown unrecognizable from the place he once loved — DIY art spaces began shutting down, venues began disappearing, bands began breaking up, communities became splintered. All of the resulting instability and change, all the personal and broader cultural issues, the anger, fear, hopelessness, despair, and shifting artistic priorities finds a home on Age Hasn’t Spoiled You.
Greys’ newest is not only a product of change, but also a means to both cope with it and communicate its effects. It’s the sound of a band hellbent on moving forward while trying to both process the present and reconsider the past. Lyrically, musically, sonically, everything shifts between states. This is where those little moments come in again. Greys show a willingness to pull inspiration from everywhere to create a chaotic album of varying contexts and perspectives: Motorik rhythms bleed into frenetic jazz and trip-hop (“Kill Appeal”; “Aphantasia”); beautifully languid dream-pop blankets anhedonic despair (“Western Guilt”); “Burning Chrome” is both the high and the comedown; Jiwani even joins Neil on the beach to watch the world turn (“Static Beach”). Even when it comes to how the songs sound, the album is in constant flux; each is a composite of different sounds, instruments, and textures. From a production standpoint, the attention to detail is stunning. When you take it in all at once, Age Hasn’t Spoiled You flattens and smears whole eras of music together, connecting disparate threads and emotional states into a cohesive whole, to the point where even “buried corpses speak”. It’s nothing less than audible impressionism.
When asked about the album title during the FADER interview, Jiwani suggests that one potential meaning is the notion that we are not destined to be products of our time or defined by our generation as individuals. Above all, he wants to believe we aren’t doomed. And while that’s about as inspiring a theme as we can hope for in these unsettling times, I’m of the mind that Age Hasn’t Spoiled You is undeniably a product of its time. It’s a vivid look into the tormented disposition of someone trying to live and be well in the world, despite everything — determined, earnest, fractured, dejected, scared, depressed, pissed off. More than that, it strives towards inciting the change many of us wish to see while lamenting the traits that will prevent us from getting there: our inability to truly communicate, apathy, self-service, willful ignorance, and empty compassion. Instead of offering concrete solutions, Age Hasn’t Spoiled You is an attempt to better understand the problems we face both personally and collectively. It’s a long, hard look in the collective mirror at all the good, the bad, and the subtleties in between.