By the time of their fourth album, Comb the Feelings Through Your Hair, Brooklyn guitar pop act Grooms had silently become a force within a scene of noisy, boundary-pushing indie bands, building an increasingly interesting body of work on a seasoned history. Starting out as a recording outlet for bandleader Travis Johnson under the name Muggabears in the early 2000s, the band grew into a functional performing trio, embracing the mixture of terse, dreamy guitar tones and slack-jawed melodies of early indie staples like Pavement and Sonic Youth. After changing their name to Grooms, they released three albums that saw them wind away from the relaxed hooks of 2009's Rejoicer toward hazy nostalgia on 2011's Prom and back into more driving rock zones on 2013's Infinity Caller. With 2015's Comb the Feelings Through Your Hair, the band (a quartet on this recording) push into previously unknown territory, still building on their well-loved foundation of moody '90s guitar-noise influences, but expanding their template with daring arrangements and their best songwriting so far. The change is a marked one, from the bright synths that kick off "Bed Version" blurring into a burning lope of a beat and artificial string flourishes before Johnson's voice comes in to complete the picture. It's like Serge Gainsbourg being interpreted by Helium, and it sounds unlike anything Grooms have attempted before. The title track finds the band calling on some of the mysterious, Sonic Youth-indebted guitar patterns that have always been a calling card, but frantic snare rolls, ghostly synths, and a hook-heavy chorus take everything to a fever pitch, tension constantly breaking and rebuilding as the song washes by. The band also break into driving post-Broadcast rhythms with the icy beat of "Something Wild," as well as spaced-out waves of ambient drone on the second half of the Krautrock workout "Doctor M." The approach of the daydreamy acoustic guitars and pulsing synths of "Half Cloud," or the cold, funky groove and spazzy beat of "Foster Sister," are all new developments for Grooms, though they still integrate the best aspects of their old sound with these new ideas. Easily the most far-reaching Grooms release stylistically, Comb the Feelings Through Your Hair also stands as their most exciting, with the most engaging songs and more unexpected shifts in sound and production than ever before. Truly a bold step forward for the band, the album takes Grooms to their next plateau the same way Daydream Nation proved Sonic Youth's breakthrough almost 30 years earlier.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas