(Hollywood Records, CD, LP, digital download)
Never has a Vermont musician been more polarizing than Grace Potter. Even Phish, alternately viewed as paragons or pariahs depending on your predilections for jam bands, have never faced quite the hometown backlash that comes with pop stardom. Obviously, Phish are stars, rock legends. But pop stardom is a different beast. Particularly for GPN, who have long taken aim, unapologetically and in no uncertain terms, at the mainstream. In a state such as Vermont, which prizes down-home ethics and artisanship, Grace and Co. present a singular conundrum. Critics — including, at times, writers for this paper — have often maligned the band for pandering to commercial success. Fans take pride in the fact that GPN have stayed close to their Vermont roots while making it on a national stage. And here’s the thing: They’re both right.
GPN’s new record, The Lion The Beast The Beat, will likely prove just as divisive. It is a highly stylized and sometimes sexualized album that cynics will likely bash as evidence of the band selling out — whatever that means in this age of indie-rock car commercials. Potterheads will champion the record as the next stage in GPN’s artistic evolution, citing the wealth of new, hip influences that shake up the band’s staid blues-rock formula — such as the Arcade Fire-esque tribal crush of the title track, and the Beach House-y haze that pervades several cuts. Cynics will point to those same hip influences and say GPN are regurgitating the work of superior bands. Potterheads will tell those cynics to fuck off.
Again, there is truth on both sides. The Lion is the band’s hippest-sounding record to date. That’s in part due to the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, who produced and cowrote three songs for the album — and whose music, by the way, shows up in more car commercials than Jon Hamm. On the flip side, GPN’s label, Hollywood Records, is a subsidiary of Disney Music Group, which is not exactly a pillar of artistic integrity — and could well be the root of much of the surrounding cynicism.
In the end, The Lion The Beast The Beat will likely propel GPN to new heights, cynics be damned. As a vocalist, Grace has never sounded stronger. And her Nocturnals, particularly guitarist Scott Tournet, continue to be a force behind her — or at least have the good sense to stay the hell out of her way. The Lion is a solid mainstream pop record and should garner the band still more accolades — and perhaps a commercial or two, inevitably generating more criticism. And the circle of life continues.
Grace Potter & the Nocturnals celebrate the release of The Lion The Beast The Beat with a show at the Higher Ground Ballroom this Wednesday, June 13.