Tanner Babcock

  1. Opinions
  2. Music Reviews

Newt Grundy

Return to Music ReviewsAbout These ReviewsRandom Music Page

Year Title Rating
2014 The Misadventures of Solomon Grundy 3.5/10
2014 A Spike Lee Joint 4/10
2014 Burial at Sea, Rapture in the Heavens 6/10
2014 Splicer Stories 7/10
2014 asex-chaos 5/10
2014 Toon World 5.5/10
2014 Hard 6.5/10
2014 Henry Knollenberg & Newt Grundy - NoMy.Hard 6.5/10
2014 Cute 5.5/10
2015 Newt Grundy and the Cut Cuties - Toon Jazz Vol. 1 (1968) 6.5/10
2015 Newt Grundy and the Cut Cuties - The Future of Robots 6.5/10
2015 Gally 6/10
2015 Newt Grundy and the Cut Cuties - Pfister Hybrids 4/10
2015 hhhhppppnnnnnn... 6.5/10
2015 Newt Grundy 6.5/10
2015 Culture Chester - Real Men Don't Rape rape
2015 Spidercake - Spidercake 7.5/10
2015 Out West with Newt and Milk 6.5/10
2016 Grim Grape 7/10
2016 Rosie. Sharn 6/10
2017 No Milk of Rodent Kindness 7.5/10
2017 Spidercake - Spidercake II 8/10
2018 Culture Chester - Outer Baseball too much Adnan
2018 Foot Said She Was a Faerie 7/10
2018 Path to Violence 7.5/10
2019 Frankengrundy 8/10

Review last updated: March 4, 2020

114 Views

Out Milk II Path to Violence

It's difficult to use any of Newt Grundy's artworks, in any medium, to properly describe or illustrate the experience of knowing him personally, but his recent incredible hip hop-and-folk masterpiece mosaic does a pretty good job. Insane Captain Beefheart-esque streams of consciousness and fragments of absurdity, technical, but off-kilter and fleeting drums, intense layered classical guitar riffs played in obscure guitar tunings, and raw, angry, menacing and terrifying rap and lyrics, are a few of the prominent musical ideas present here. It even has a two-minute spoken-word banana improvised rap poem. I've known Newt Grundy for about 5 years now, and have been good friends with him for 4 of those. We made a couple of albums together in Culture Chester, and did the shows, and in the past couple years he's made appearances on my albums, and me on one of his.

When Newt Grundy lived in Canada, after the demise of the band Spidercake, he began his solo project, then titled North of Poet. The album of his that Out Milk II Path to Violence sounds like most is in fact, his very first album (long unpublished, disowned, abandoned) authored to North of Poet, Burial at Sea, Rapture in the Heavens. You see, Grundy's initial albums were made in Ableton, in combination with occasional use of guitar, bass guitar, and synthesizer. They used a lot of samples and post-production, and his earliest works existed in the plasma of ideas between IDM, instrumental hip hop, drone, noise, experimental, industrial. Like any young artist with a blank canvas of a discography, the earliest albums were usually near-effortless (sometimes brilliant because of this), but always hit-and-miss, usually leaning towards "miss". His last three albums, by stark contrast, were made entirely with physical, analog instruments, with very disciplined and strategic playing styles. All drums, synths, guitars, are live self-recorded instruments. He has done this with Newt Grundy and Out West, but his guitar-playing was not nearly as masterful as it is now, and those albums were largely synth-based.

Grundy as a person you know in real life is much different than the Grundy "character", the "persona", the public portrayal, the abstraction. After a long and hard artistic infancy, going through what the Newt has gone through, would leave anyone embittered, disillusioned, vicious. This aggression made from this, and the intoxicating inspiration found within social isolation and without mass approval, has formed a thunderstorm of creative chaos from the now 25-year-old Grundy. In the albums before Path to Violence, you have small infant ideas, although interesting and thoughtful, never really having the strength or substance to stand on their own. The lo-fi synth lullaby album Out West with Newt and Milk, initially over an hour and with 30 tracks, recorded all on a handheld tape recorder, is a notable approaching of original musical ideas. However the creative content was one-dimensional, one-sided, underdeveloped. I much preferred the sequel to Out West, the no-nonsense acoustic, technical, Americana country collection Grim Grape (which features me on like 3 songs, and Henry on most of them).

Between the release of the desperate, painful, difficult, almost pitiful Rosie. Sharn, an album full of broken-heart ballads played with technical mastery but vocal timidness, in October 2016, and the release of the acid-folk desert-cowboy-assassin No Milk of Rodent Kindness, in June 2017, Newt Grundy disappeared out west in the USA for several months. He survived busking on the streets, hitchhiking, doing hard drugs, living in the SUVs of cute girls, and living off of the grid in California. His music became loud, menacing, and confident, due to many style changes, but also due to his reality that louder music attracted more attention from passerbys and made more money. The weak-willed, half-hearted stutter lullabies of "Ingersoll Lullaby", "Endless Cake", and "Like You Like Toon" eventually turned into fiery, psychotic, dissonant yet melodic, acid Western folk of "She Wants Me to Kill", "Jesus Thorns", "Coon and Hair Pt 2". And that was the last any of Grundy's listeners heard from him, other than a compilation or a single, until a this October.

The musical direction of Newt Grundy has stopped on a dime and took off blazing into the unknown. Anyone who's heard any of his earlier work would have thought he was on the road to avant-country legacy, or outsider music at best, but now he's hit the ground running in a totally foreign music genre, doing things he's never done before left and right, and nailing it. Who does this besides Frank Zappa and Sun Ra? It's difficult to compare Path to Violence to any of the small handful of great "avant-hip hop" albums I listen to regularly (cLOUDDEAD, dalek, Atmosphere), not because it's such a unique and inventive hip hop album and it stands out in its genre, but because it's a unique, highly orchestrated and concentrated, heavy and high-quality technical composition, and it doesn't sound like really any other album in any genre.

It's just very stimulating, and very fragmented and recursive about its ideas, the whole album explodes in your face, and the experience is a trip through analog psychosis and red-hot musical aggression. The highlights of this album, in my opinion, are the sensual hypno-ballad "Bramble Baby", the thundering vicious death threat caricature "Blood in the Snow Ain't Red", the drunken half-awake mumble "Bauble", and the minimalist beatnik avant-lullaby "Flies in His Absence". Many tracks are split into two or three "parts", separated by abrupt shifts in musical flow, breaks, unpredictable stops, or digressions. The layering and arrangement of the vocals (including the background vocals with himself) is also very particular and unexpected, and it slowly creeps up on you in an atmospheric way. It recreates the feeling of jumping and being scared when you realize some strange person has been behind you for 10 minutes and you never knew they were there - which is fantastic.

But pretty much, the entirety of this thing is mind-blowing and awesome and I'm still not all the way over it. It's very clear Grundy has put more effort into this album than all of his previous albums put together. This album is innovative, inspiring, ahead of its time, it's fresh, and it's original <--- and that's something rare for the entire medium of music. I cannot recommend this album highly enough, and, fully knowing Grundy will release another great album next year that tops this one, I will say it's his best album to date.

Frankengrundy

Let it be known that I am a highly serious and depressive person. Life is a sinking shit hole of agony. The people you love are never totally sure that you love them, they have problems connecting with you. All the time you've wasted getting high, jerking off, feeling sorry for yourself, and being bitter and resentful, could have been used for something good, like connecting with your mother or your father, or a long-forgotten friend or sibling, and it wasn't. All of the potential you had in high school, all the great dreams of technology, art, and science you've had for yourself, are now starting to fade away into the obscurity of every day life. Friends get older, family gets older. Throughout the course of a human life, unless tragically arrested by suicide or an accident, that person will spend year after year in grief. They will eventually have to experience everyone they love dying, one by one, in a number of different ways, and if they don't have to watch a particular one of their loved ones die, then that loved one will have to watch them die. As each person dies, a part of them also dies and never comes back.

It's easy to get along and hang out with people you just met. It's difficult to maintain friendships over a span of years. It's easy to be angry, bitter, resentful, and abusive. It is fundamentally harder, and typically met with more obstacles, to be compassionate, caring, and forgiving, especially if you've had a lot of traumatic, damaging, and terrible things happen to you. Trauma, abuse, pain, and depression, affect people like viruses, quickly taking over entire towns or countries in waves of careless disregard for one's fellow man. People mistreat each other and cause irreparable psychological damage to one another; each person they harm, they are encouraging to harm someone else, and the cycle repeats itself. Most people living right now have exchanged a little bit of that difficulty of loving, for a life of convenience, and a life of taking people for granted. What these creatures eventually become reduced to is the type of behavior that consists of things like screaming at one another despite being in a life-threatening car accident, saying "well you shouldn't have been drinking that night" to rape victims, throwing family members out on the street to die for no reason. Black holes where love and affection are supposed to be.

It's really not the fault of Jaden's latest avant-nu-metal masterpiece Frankengrundy that I, and now you too after reading this, are in a sour mood. I am angry at myself for being depressed. Angry that I've become numb to a large number of artworks, activities, and interests that used to make me feel things, angry that I no longer enjoy a lot of the things I used to enjoy, angry that people have irreparably ruined the lives of me and the ones I love. When an album like Frankengrundy comes along and shatters the mold, the decades-old wall of dust and cobwebs lining my heart and the parts of my brain that used to process empathy, it's just a feeling I have so rarely anymore, and one I'm embarrassingly no longer quite used to. I'm not gonna make the mistake of calling this album a complete masterpiece, like I have in 2014 and 2015 I'm sure, with albums like Out West and Toon World and Hard Wieners. But what I will say is that Frankengrundy is the first Newt Grundy release to come alarmingly close to masterpiece status. It is an extremely diverse, highly emotional, brilliantly and meticulously produced, and tragically orchestrated behemoth of an album that will eat you alive. You will feel like you're watching a Newt Grundy play, where Grundy is each member of the cast, the crew, the director, the producer, and several members of the audience. His manic, cacophonous drumming style appears in the same sound image as his characters, and his insane, brutal, hyper-technical heavy metal guitar licks. There are many vocal techniques where the voices are "doubled up", or shifted on the left and right channels, or reversed and shifted. The ideas behind the vocals make me think of Death in June, while the song structure, or lack of song structure, in "Greatest Contender" makes me think of the ending to that Microphones album, The Glow, Pt. 2.

Step by step, year after year, Grundy has been building an expansive musical empire for himself. Despite largely existing in his imagination, and only manifesting itself in the form of subjective art pieces - albums, paintings, poems - this empire has been getting bigger and bigger, more and more massive, more integrated, more organized, conquering entire genres of music, acquiring spoils of war that are intense, highly provocative and innovative musical ideas, sucking up trombones, synthesizers, guitars, and drum brushes like an amorphous blob of goop from a '50s horror movie. Among the most prominent ideas of Grundy's musical empire are intense emotion (usually sadness, frustration, and unrequited love), bold, risk-taking sound experiments of many types and recording styles, disciplined real-life rehearsing and recording of soundscapes via a number of analog and classical instruments, the skewing and distorting of traditional styles of playing for a number of instruments (atypical guitar tunings), and in general, making you really, really sad. It's especially talented at that last one.

I would say this is like the sixth, maybe seventh time I've listened. The standout tracks here, well... really it's all of them. It's pretty much impossible to choose between these awesome gun-slinging scissor-tongue rap daemons, but the most euphoric moments are "Buck to the Ground", "Mecha Grubbs" bringing back the guitar riff and drums from the intro, "Emo Rap" probably the most intimate thing Grundy has done since the "hpn" from No Milk, "Daemon", "Fairy Village", "Reachin Out", and the final two tracks. What Jaden has really improved on over the course of his discography, is his ability to put an album together. None of his previous albums ever completely felt like proper "albums", but more collections of songs, anthologies, or compilations. Grundy has been known to periodically change the track order of his albums, but I don't see him doing that with this one. It's like every song is the perfect conclusion to the previous one, every song is a chapter of a very serious story, a story that wouldn't make sense at all if these plot points were anywhere other than their current places. Another thing that stands out about this album is the influence and adaptations of black metal-style guitar and vocals. Unlike Path to Violence and No Milk of Rodent Kindness, which were largely acoustic or classical-guitar melodies and frameworks, Frankengrundy has emerged from the desolate swamp of synthesizers, guitar pedals, amps, keyboards, and drums, with fiery live-wire electric guitar snarls and even guitar solos, with harsh static, grime, and grunge straight from the same depths of hell that Burzum and The Angelic Process guitars are from. These crazy guitar techniques are accompanied not only by acoustic drums, but by electronic drums and synthesizer swirls. His references to classic literature have made yet another appearance in this album. "Grim Grape Two" is a remix and re-recording of his song from Path to Violence, the song I still think of as the opener even though Grundy changed it, "Grim Grape Gatchya", a very memorable song with a lot of great lines. The remix is pretty crazy, turning the acoustic frills into electric sweeps, turning acoustic live drums into thundering power-house industrial bass hysteria, and doubling up the vocals.

With every Newt Grundy album I've heard, it's basically a challenge for me how many lyrics I can easily distinguish, as they are often mixed in to the music, overpowered by other instruments, or overshadowed due to less-than-ideal mixing/mastering conditions. Spidercake is like, easy mode. "Bohemia seven seas, great lakes and outer space". Out West is easy mode. "It was cold in my home in the burrow, cold on the street with the people". Grim Grape was tough, Rosie. Sharn was easy. No Milk was intermediate, and Path to Violence was like god mode impossible "smoking those ashes sleeping in a tunnel", "something something some bananas by my side..." Frankengrundy, to my relief of solving of the problem of needing to understand everyone with ideal vocal mixing, is a highly quotable album with some really great moments, and really powerful, memorable lines. I also think, due to the much more colorful and much vivider instrumental palette, and despite the album's strong messages of positivity, optimism, and hope, that this is also the darkest, most painful, and most devastating Newt Grundy effort to date. There are parts here that really, really kill me, and make me want to break down. "My skin has the burden of producing screams..." from "Emo Rap", "I hear a voice screaming in the dark, I know it's right beside me but it sounds so far" from "Reachin Out". I am in awe of the intense emotion that was poured into this music. Sometimes, the lyrics can even get farfetched and cartoonish. "Fairy Village" goes like "Heaven is a liquid, it soaks up my mildew, is rust an easy fortune, is the ocean eroded, something tourniquet", and has a great refrain of "After 25 years you think I would make it one step up the stairs, I hate for you to see me like this". It's just one awesome moment after another with this album, and despite getting really sad and alarmed at my unusual feeling of emotions, I feel pretty fantastic listening to it.

So yeah, listen to Newt Grundy. Pay for it if you have to, steal it, bother him and make him give you download codes, get a bootleg CD from a Nigerian prince. Whatever you have to do to get that euphoric, orgasmic Grundy artistic opium in your blood. He's one of the best artists working today, one of my best friends, and a genius that's as sharp as a whip.