For many of its best moments, Rejoicer separates into layers. Here, warm, melodic guitars are heard dimly through shimmering curtains of noise; there, strangled pop vocals trace a wandering path through dissonance; over there, sticks on rims beat a nervous pattern against gauzy washes of sustained sounds. In general, more than one thing is going on – either sequentially, as songs stop, then start up again in entirely different directions, or simultaneously, as sparse parts interlock only casually, as if built separately first, then hammered together at the joints. There is a constant tension between song and sonic splatter.
Grooms is not exactly a new band, though this is the first album released under that name. Founders Travis Johnson and Emily Ambruso used to play together as Muggabear, and only changed the name when they recruited Jim Sykes (ex-Parts & Labor and Marnie Stern) as permanent drummer. As you might expect from his resume, Sykes plays fast and hard and off-kilter, upping the post-mathy complexity factor a good deal.
Rejoicer is frontloaded with its sunniest, most melodic songs, starting with sweetly skewed “Dreamsucker.” “It’s love…It’s love,” Johnson croons uncertainly against a weirdly tuned wall of Sonic Youth guitars, Syke hammering bursts of rim shots in double time. There’s a pop vulnerability in the melody and in the relatively conventional guitar parts, but it has been rushed and chopped and complicated beyond the standards of indie pop. “Thumbs” juxtaposes easy strumming with massive sheets of noise, Johnson singing tentative queries that are answered by firestorms of dissonance. It’s like Bound Stems with a few exclamation points attached, the fragility of confessional songwriting bracketed by fairly intense instrumental attacks.
It’s not an immediate sell. The first couple times through Rejoicer, you might easily dismiss it as self-indulgent, unconstructed indie pop, lead by a pitch-uncertain singer with no great gift for catchy tunes. But after a half dozen listens, the album opens up, resolving its contradictions and bringing its juxtapositions into sharper focus. This is a fascinating, sometimes schizophrenic dialogue between experimental noise and songwriter pop, and well worth the extra effort.