For some, the sub-mental drunken yuppie balladry of Jimmy Buffett is paradise. For others, it’s the stereotypical melodies of Caribbean steel drum players. And for others still, it can be the sound of waves crashing, or even nothing at all. I, on the other hand, find the sound of Graves to be paradise. The Portland group has only one setting for their music: slow and steady. It has a sort of laid back vibe that I can see people enjoying in performers like Buffett. Only they don’t suck ass. And despite never speeding up or rocking out, they pull off an album that’s truly interesting and never wears out its welcome.
Graves’ main songwriter and lead singer, Greg Olin, has a soothing baritone that falls somewhere between Mark Eitzel, Hayden and Joe Pernice, but nowhere near as morose as any of those singers. And each song is built upon a simple melody played on Olin’s acoustic guitar, often accompanied by little more than brushed drums, a little piano, some electric guitar or distorted Casio keyboards. It’s a strangely simple idea that stays fresh, most likely due to its lack of pretense or grandiosity.
From the get go of Graves’ new album, Yes Yes Okay Okay, Olin sings “I wanna settle down” over a gorgeously chaotic wash of keyboard, mirroring his desperation perfectly, whether intentional or not. And it sets the stage for the rest of the album, as it’s all easy and breezy, never veering too far into noise or anything that would overshadow the brushed drum beats.
The piano accompanied “Connection Time” is awkwardly romantic, as Olin sings, “My ten fingers are trying to undo your blouse/ because buttons aren’t forever girl/ and zippers only rust/ they say love is for the patient few/ so let’s hurry as we must.” It’s witty, sad and touching all at once, which is just the sort of strange conflict that Graves present. The next track, “Headphone Brigade,” is one of the best moments on the album, if for no other reason than the stellar trumpet leads.
However, in the next track, “Shake the Walls,” Olin declares, “This is not the best part/ the best part’s coming later.” After hearing “Headphone Brigade,” you’d think it had already passed, but “End Love” is also in the running for best track on the album. The two-chord song is simple and melancholy, with plenty of strange lyrics, like “Shit was cool/ then birds died at end love.” It’s all very strange and makes little sense, but sounds absolutely fantastic. The last track on the album is a fifty second, French sung version of a verse from “Connection Time,” which is appropriately, and cleverly, titled “French Connection Time.”
Yes Yes Okay Okay lasts around a half-hour, making it all too brief a listen, but for that half-hour, you’ll be hypnotized. It’s gentle. It’s charming. It’s paradise.
Mark Eitzel – Caught In a Trap and I Can’t Back Out ‘Cause I Love You Too Much, Baby
Hayden – Elk Lake Serenade
Mirah – C’mon Miracle
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.