and Offensive, the debut album from Chicago's Grenadier, begins with a tensely-droning guitar, some hand drums and a comfortable chord progression before breaking into the main hook of "Death Ray". Those first 33 seconds say quite a bit about the sound that the group spends the next half-hour or so developing. Despite the military names of both the band and its album, Grenadier provides only a soft punch, but a punch nonetheless. The band—from the Ubique collective—keeps a balance between standard indie-pop, harder rock and quirky effects-driven music. Just as "Death Ray" contains melodic verses, more aggressive choruses and titular sound effects, the album uses multiple sounds and dynamics to make its statement; usually the effort pays off.
The second and third tracks, "Easily Swallowed" and "Karma See Through", rely on acoustic guitars and a slower tempo. Although songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Jeremy Heroldt occasionally eschews traditional lyrical techniques such as rhyme and parallel verse structure, his content sometimes falls flat, as in these numbers. When he forces rhyme, he sometimes gets a little silly: "End of the day, you're still you / With the night yet to get through / Do the best you can do". The string of clichés doesn't hold enough weight when coupled with the gentle music, and these moments really take the explosiveness out of Hand Offensive.
Fortunately, Heroldt does a better job writing the music than the lyrics. Most of the remaining eight tracks stay at a mid- to up-tempo pace, and Grenadier pulls together enough influences that you can never know for sure what's coming next. This group is not as unpredictable as a group like Menomena or the Fiery Furnaces, but they do draw on influences that ranges from 70s hard rock to prog to psych. Grenadier could fit in equally as easily (or uneasily) with contemporaries like Ted Leo or the Fire Theft as it could with their forerunners.
The central, if unstated, tenet of its aesthetic seems to be acoustic guitar hooks that set a groove for a song before taking the music in an unlikely direction, whether it be the Tin Pan Alley feel of "Easily Swallowed" or the low-brass highlights of "Way Too Close". They usually punctuate this shift with an increase in intensity or volume. This technique helps keep the band anchored and enables Hand Offensive to feel like an album rather than a collection of individual songs. While the music is diverse, it's not scattershot.
Over the course of this tight album, Grenadier provides some truly stellar moments, but when the band's off its target, it misses widely, letting the occasional musical drag or lyrical misstep mar an otherwise quality release. The group's members have previously appeared on eight albums and two EPs, so it's hard to chalk these flaws up to inexperience, even if this disc is Grenadier's first. On the other hand, it isn't so hard to see the songwriting skills that sometimes come through to the surface. The band just needs to find a way to use the best parts of their arsenal more often.