After listening to Grumpus' last EP, Man Child (2014), it became clear that Graham Stevenson was an artist unafraid of experimentation. The record ranged in style from ambient, almost Godspeed You! Black Emperor-esque instrumentals to effortlessly catchy indie pop, with a smattering of Americana folk and Latin-influenced guitar inbetween. Unsurprisingly, his latest effort, Sequestrian, is similarly eclectic without ever missing a beat.
Driven by two irresistible singles (more than half of the EP, at least in terms of duration), it demonstrates a repertoire that's hard to classify beyond the aforementioned label of "indie pop." Once again, we're greeted by an instrumental intro, but "Meanderthal" plays with synthesizers and a drum machine that haven't made an appearance on Grumpus' recordings in the past.
The meat of the EP begins with "Waters," an upbeat tune with some playfully idiosyncratic lyrics ("Well your backless dress / And your spinelessness / Well it's feelin' good on my scoliosis"). The hand-percussion beat is almost reminiscent of something from Ocarina of Time, employing a goofy bloop at the end of every measure, adding to the track's genial air.
"Grumpus Christmas Special" comes next, alternating between sparse verses and richly-textured choruses, all supported by a propulsive beat and rigid electric guitars. Despite the cheeky title, it's the darkest the album ever gets: "The cold caress of TV glow / Medicine the undertow / You won't come back to me / Come back anymore."
It's followed by "Weakdays," which, in addition to rounding out a pretty great string of portmanteaus, concludes the EP with a beautifully somber folk melody. I can't help but think of indie folk group Deer Tick whenever I hear Stevenson's voice, and here the comparison is probably most obvious.
And yet, Grumpus always seems to have a pleasantly surprising trick up his sleeve. Each chorus features a crescendoing orchestral section, and by the end of the song the strings have swelled into a mournful wall of sound. It's a fitting and emotional way to end the record, as it speaks to Stevenson's greatest strength—the ability to make powerful music without taking himself too seriously.