Brooklyn noise pop trio Grooms have been immersed in '90s adoration for most of their existence, and for the years before when some of their core members played as the Muggabears. Prom, their second full-length since changing their name and drummer in 2009, finds Grooms integrating subtle electronic touches into their ferocious guitar-heavy sound and veering ever so slightly away from their '90s influences toward a lush signature sound of their own. The strengths of Prom come from its outpouring of atmosphere. Layers of noisy guitar swim with spooky bass figures and mysterious electronic sweeps, creating a sound that's easy to get lost in. Grooms opt for the typically shoegazey low-in-the-mix vocals, effecting a nice textural blending of voices and music. Bassist Emily Ambruso sings lead on the short and scrappy "Sharing," her whisper-soft vocals strikingly reminiscent of Bilinda Butcher on pre-Loveless-era My Bloody Valentine. Most songs are sung by guitarist Travis Johnson, whose raspy delivery leans more toward Malkmus than Shields. Johnson occasionally struggles to find his range, generally in a charming way, but at times detrimental to the songs. The vocals sound misplaced and creaky on standout track "Skating with Girl," distracting from the song's haunting bassline and lush synth beddings.
The nostalgia-heavy lyrical bent of some songs can read either sweet or cringe-worthy, depending on your birth date and sensitivity to sentiment. The most glaring example comes in the first line of the title track as Johnson slowly croons "Seventeen is the whole world/In my room the Smiths and girls." There's no doubting the reality of the line, but it might be a little too relatable a reference, tipping over from legitimately awkward teenage loneliness to annoying ubiquity. This is the line that Grooms walk in many ways throughout Prom. Owing obvious debt to the influence of a canon of '90s bands, Grooms risk presenting themselves as a derivative throwback or an exercise in homage. While nostalgia-seeped Sonic Youth or Swervedriver-style guitar walls come through on nearly every song, Grooms carve out their own take on things enough to remind listeners they're hearing a band from Brooklyn in the 2010s. The brittle electronics on "Tiger Trees" and terse atmospherics of "Into the Arms" have much in common with contemporaries like Asobi Seksu and A Place to Bury Strangers. As Prom rages on, it becomes apparent just how sophisticated Grooms' craft has become, and in that, how sincere. However off-putting some of the nostalgic sounds or sentiments might be, it's clear that Grooms are still in their respective bedrooms, favorite bands on the stereo and painfully real feelings manifesting themselves as these songs.