Grouplove at the 9:30 Club

Los Angeles centric pop Grouplove make up their show at the 9:30 Club in Washington DC.

WASHINGTON, December, 28, 2012 —One of the more interesting things to appear in the last decade or so is the designation of straight pop bands—bands characterized by a rock verve while showing little in the way of leaning towards any identifiable subgenre. This isn’t entirely a new concept by any means. But this category was usually reserved in the past to describe popular “manufactured” singers. On the contrary, bands currently accorded this designation clearly come out of the indie rock circuit but don’t bother to share much in the way of normal genre classifications.

This is kind of band Grouplove have evolved into in their very short time together. Listening to their music, one can make vague associations with other genres. But in the end, none of those fit particularly well. Instead, what the audience gets from them is a collection of songs perfectly built to secure the maximum affect without losing anyone’s interest. Though this may sound as if  Grouplove’s output is orchestrated behind the scenes in some deliberate way, another key aspect of the recent develop is that Grouplove and other bands like it actually seem to have come about their sound organically.

This is why the sold out crowd out at the 9:30 Club turned out to see Grouplove not only for their two nights here, but for rescheduled dates. Originally Grouplove was supposed to play in late October, but Hurricane Sandy cut a swath through the Northeast at the same time and put those plans on hold for a month and a half. This sudden switch didn’t seem to stop the 9:30 Club from filling up with anxious fans, however, during the band’s recent performances.

The musical components of Grouplove are rather interesting because their make-up fits the standard stereotype associated with most indie dance acts: upbeat tempo, interchanging male/female vocals, heavy doses of synth, and quick chirping guitars. But that’s not really what they are about. In reality, they fit closer to a new wave indie folk band instead, which, on the surface at least, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

There’s a chance this description makes Grouplove sound as if it’s a mash-up band, which is certainly a recent artistic trend. But that could be a bit of a misconception with this band. Their audience tends to overlap with the same group of people who enjoy mash-up bands. Yet that description doesn’t really fit with this ensemble. Grouplove’s incorporation of various genres is  much more subtle. It’s not the abrasive collusion that mash-up bands embrace with glee.

None of this is to say Grouplove is terribly unique, because there are a number of bands that are gaining mainstream momentum who are doing the same thing. Uniqueness doesn’t necessarily translate to quality however, which is something Grouplove possesses in spades. That said, they have a tendency to sound new and vital, with their vague folk sound overtopping any pop pretensions. But this still comes across as different, not because it necessarily is but because they perform their set so tightly that it comes across as professionally as anyone could want or imagine.

This, in turn, has a decided impact on their live show. The kind of polish demonstrated in the presentation of each of their songs further pushes the pop agenda Grouplove very much seems to have on its mind. Each song is its own separate entity. Yet the band has a weird ability to make their songs build on one another to the point where they seem inseparable. It’s a strange strange phenomenon. In the span of a little over an hour every song feels more important than the next, even if they’ve already covered the expected territory of their hits.

That’s what Grouplove is all about, though. They’re the new kind of pop band. They’re the kind of band that’s specifically created to be a pop band, but without the added weight of a single-minded focus on dominating the mainstream. They just write and perform catchy little songs that end up casting a wide net among their diverse fans.

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Stephen Bradley

Stephen Bradley is an avid music listener and an occasional writer.  He grew up in the Washington DC area and has been embedded in the local music scene for years.  Currently he lives in Vienna, VA.   He enjoys bands that have been broken up for at least a decade.

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