GROUPOEM have quite a storied history. The legend goes that from 1983 to 1986 the band cut their teeth in the Toronto punk rock circuit, went on a North American tour in 1987 and then dissolved the same year.
25 years later the band has reformed. Their new offering Dirt Church is a culmination of 9 tracks the band recorded in 1987 and 9 that were captured after their reformation. Subjectively, I wish there were more bands like this. GROUPOEM exhibit many of the tropes of punk and alternative, but the way they present it is unique and ultimately fresh. The stream of conscious type lyrics and masterful guitar playing and arrangements really set this band apart from the herd.
The band’s introductory song after 25 years is the sinewy Slimfast. Angular, slash and burn guitar parts marry with rambling vocals. The result is engaging in its primal immediacy. The vocals almost recall a North American version of Colin Newman of post punk legends WIRE. 2nd track Afluenza throbs with a mid tempo shuffle. Guitarist Terry Robinson absolutely tears the roof of the track with his guitar playing. The band cites bands such as NOMEANSNO and KING CRIMSON as influences which go a long way in explaining the unique sonic flavor on Dirt Church. Vocalist Mr.Science does an excellent job propelling the songwriting with his urgent warblings.
Track 5 Unshriveled features vocals delivered in a lower register which gives the album a dose of variety. The vocal stanzas coupled with the mind blowing guitar playing are sure to make a fan of those who like their punk rock heavily art damaged. “Pearls” recall a sound not unlike if CRAZY HORSE if they were jamming with THE HOLD STEADY. Mr. Science delivers some stunning lyrics “Pearls before swine. In the loss, she was divine. The genius of hindsight shines no light.”
The portion of Dirt Church that was laid to tape 25 years ago has a certain unhinged urgency that seems more apparent than the material tracked in 2014/2015. As a result, the record benefits from a wide sonic palette one of which deploys many styles and flavors. This is especially apparent on Skulls/Hey Judy which literally sounds as if it could’ve been recorded by a different band entirely. “Good Things” stabs with clever six string flourishes and a frantic pace. The diversity of GROUPOEM’S songwriting explains their having shared the stage with acts as different as NOMEANSNO and GWAR.
The album sequencing does an admirable job of creating an arc of which the listener travels along. Each song offers something unique, there are signposts and common threads but plenty of individuality in terms of lyrics, playing, and feel, to keep the listener plenty engaged.
Dirt Church wraps up with “Ass Bankwardz.” This rollicking track hilariously decries the longtime institution that’s found on everyone’s main street. The guitar solo is more than likely to drop the listener’s jaw from sheer explosiveness. GROUPOEM should be commended for not taking the safe route that so, so many of their contemporaries do. Instead, anyone who experiences Dirt Church stands to benefit from the obtuse yet effective risks taken, that result in an engaging, exciting, collection of punk rock songs.
Hear the full album below:
Release Date: August 20th, 2017
For Fans of: Wire, The Hold Steady, The Pop Group, NoMeansNo, King Crimson,