On 2017's fantastic 'Plastic Cough', the then Seattle-based Great Grandpa delivered some raucously entertaining grunge-tinged indie-rock, mixing pathos and sensitivity with songs about zombie attacks and early morning munchies.
'Four of Arrows' is, therefore, something of an about-turn for the group, which is now spread across the United States. Stripped of the grunge edges, it's a far more expansive and musically expressive experience, sitting comfortably alongside the likes of Hop Along or the much-missed Rilo Kiley.
It's gorgeous too, lifted by strings and textured arrangements that ebb like a tide; at turns a gentle swell, at others a tumultuous crashing. Furthermore, it's an album that is difficult to second guess as it meanders along, both natural and organic yet expertly sculptured by unseen hands. Take 'Bloom', for example. It starts with a smart, throwaway line about Tom Petty, but drifts into an uplifting crescendo of interlocking voices by the song's conclusion. It's poetically beautiful and a world away from the brightly-coloured pop of 'Plastic Cough'. Even more telling is the instrumental interlude that follows, again highlighting the huge jump in ambition.
It's a similar story throughout 'Four of Arrows', where time, space and tempo are used to great – and often devastating – effect. Tracks like 'Mono No Aware' and 'Split Up The Kids' pull on the heartstrings, with Alex Menne's restrained vocals masking a clamour of emotions. Compared to 'Plastic Cough', where it all felt a touch frenzied, here everything is much more nuanced, and it makes for a much richer and far deeper emotional payoff.
Yet, while there's a real emphasis on storytelling, 'Four of Arrows' still features plenty of pop songs. 'Treat Jar' and' Digger' are the type of perfectly-crafted radio-friendly unit shifters that would dominate the airwaves in a more discerning dimension, while 'Rosalie' and 'Human Condition' marry lyrical depth with an easily digestible sheen.
What's most remarkable is that this has all been achieved without compromise. 'Four of Arrows' still carries Great Grandpa's woozy and off-kilter nature throughout, with moments of irreverence highlighting the group's playful nature. "If life's a dream, then I'm not sleeping," considers Menne on closing number 'Mostly Here', and it's a prescient take on the blurring between truth and fantasy. 'Four of Arrows' exists in a space where both realities exist, grounded in the constraints of humdrum reality, but brilliant enough to thrive in moments of magic and majesty.