When a band goes out of its way to make its name unpronounceable (and, for that matter, unspellable), and then devotes the entirety of its debut album cover art to a sendup of corporate mission statements, it would be easy to let annoyance color one's perception of the music. (Note to band: You're surely very smart and everything, but anyone can be abstruse, and there's no easier target in the world than corporate culture.) Luckily for GrndNtl Brnds, the music they make is strong and interesting enough to make up for the extramusical annoyances. Sounding at times like the product of an unnatural union between Henry Cow and X, GrndNtl Brnds (which may stand for Grand National Brands or something similar) hacks out a place in the avant-rock crowd by combining emo-ish guitar math and complex (if tuneless) vocal interplay with arrangements that lapse periodically into actual melodic hooks.
Bassist/singer Irene Mandel waxes lyrical on the standout track, "Preservation Society," while guitarist Dren McDonald sings both verbal and melodic counterpart and an unidentified someone else plays banjo. "Something I Should Say" rocks hard in 6/8 and manages to convey thoughtful angst without saying anything immediately identifiable. And if the refrain to "Dig" really does go "Hey, Kaw-Liga/Dig to China," then that makes GrndNtl Brnds this year's least likely Hank Williams fans. You'll have to work for some of this stuff, but most of it is worth it.