Grebes is the solo recording project of Richmond, VA’s Jacob Ungerleider. A touring member of Natalie Prass’s band, Ungerleider has cut his musical teeth playing bright and expansive pop songs. Grebes could be said to invert the focus, homing in on small spaces to create an intimate, introspective brand of pop that utilises modesty and restraint to craft its subtle beauty. The result is something akin to Sufjan Stevens and Andy Shauf teaming up to write sombre pop songs in an empty house.
The image of an empty house is a pertinent one, not least because such a space is alluded to in the title. The debut Grebes release, House Creature, is being released later this week on Broken Circles, and we’re lucky enough to be sharing the whole thing a few days early. From opener ‘One Trick Pony’, there is a sense that Ungerleider is working from within a state of isolation, becoming the titular house creature crafting private pop gems. Which is not to say the tracks lack any sparkle or detail, with the intricately layered ‘wyd’ showing off a stratified stack of synths and psych-inspired guitar, while the foggy pop of ‘Beleev’ is a party in its own right, even if it’s just a party of one.
Other tracks favour the enveloping sadness of nostalgia, with ‘Halo’ and ‘Always Home’ hinting at the folk underpinnings of the Grebes sound. The former kicks into a gentle groove a third of the way in, though the latter remains insular and faded. “And when the last green starling has flown,” Ungerleider sings from within the wistful ache of the instrumentation, “will there be anything to call your own, I would never / and when you’re tired and all alone, you know I am always home.”
The track signals something of a switch in the album’s mood, flipping the switch from peppy rhythms of the opening half to something far more downbeat. ‘Plum’ is a case in point, a sultry, half-paced croon that slinks and slides in slo-motion. “Keep me here when I’m alone, and I’ll watch your tv show,” go Ungerleider’s words, sounding somewhere between a promise and a plea. “See my fear is all I know, all I ever had to know.” The sun has well and truly set on the Grebes abode, and Ungerleider is digging in for a long night.
That said, the album ends not with some triumphant crescendo but rather a humble passing. Closer ‘Always New’ sets out with cushioned tones before being washed out by an accumulation of aqueous synths. The low-key finish encapsulates the House Creature aesthetic. If life is fragile and fleeting, events both special and terrible passing in a blink of an eye, then what use is bombast in its representations? Rather Grebes highlights the value of subtlety and discretion, charting not the melodrama of the moment but rather the slow melancholy of time’s passing.
House Creature is out on the 28th June via Broken Circles and you can pre-order it now from the Grebes Bandcamp page.
Photo by Malcolm Donaldson