Album of the Week: Great Grandpa – Four of Arrows

By Sage Shemroske

Great Grandpa draw from the tarot deck when handing us their second full length LP, ‘Four of Arrows’. In a tarot deck the Four of Arrows are a sign that you’re in need of introspection, quiet, recovery. The card indicates faith in counsel or help. And so it goes.

Though the wetness of the band’s Seattle origins can be heard, the majority of ‘Four of Arrows’ was written as Patrick and Carrie Goodwin, the group’s chief songwriters, made their way through the Midwest. And this is obvious on tracks like ‘Mostly Here’ when vocalist Alex Menne slurs “all the lives we’ve lived and all the lives to be are full of trees, changing trees”. As a Midwesterner moistening my skin before winter dries my tongue, I can imagine the band writing in summer’s dying moments. I can’t help but think Great Grandpa want us to have this album while there’s still time to enjoy it. The pop-y ‘Mono No Aware’ seems to agree as it slips through your fingers, knowing that many of life’s prettiest parts are impermanent. “Do you feel the same thing that I do?” Menne asks, because for the time being they are here and they are alright, and because memory is oftentimes lost in the void and our presence is not always guaranteed, sometimes that’s enough. You take your joy where you can get it. 

On the optimistic ‘Bloom’, Great Grandpa dares to ask us to push aside our sadness and consider how far we’ve come. There is a freedom on ‘Bloom’, in knowing you are not in control of time but you are in control of your own narrative. “I get anxious on the weekends when I feel I’m wasting time/then I think about Tom Petty and how he wrote his best songs when he was 39” croons Menne, like an extension of those memes that remind you that J.K Rowling used to be a broke single mom and Oprah didn’t hit her stride until age 32. Great Grandpa are old enough to enjoy life and recognize that it’s a very long process, many of us nearing the middle of it wondering how we’ve made it this far to begin with. There is a lingering existentialism to ‘Four of Arrows’. The undeniable emotional anchor of the album is ‘Digger’, which is not only a song title but a character. It’s the digger who is wrestling with the tarot cards dealt to him. Neurotic and urgent, Menne wails “shouldn’t go out in the darkness”. The band stops, allows us to shape our mouths into ‘o’s, then finally wrenches the knife out of the flesh in a manic outro. From here the album unchains, living viscerally. 

Menne’s charisma is unmatched, even when admitting “I can’t help you if I can’t help myself/you’re gonna have to make your own coffee now” on ‘Treat Jar’, a song which grows out of the resentment that comes with expecting someone else to make you better. The start of ‘Treat Jar’ is bizarrely jovial, driven by the charming early aughts grit of the guitars before moving into the pitfalls of coping with your depression by making someone else feel better instead. “Sometimes living is hard, hard work” sings Menne on ‘Human Condition’, hitting us with the hardest truth on the album. This track is an arm wrapping around you, pulling you closer to the speaker and sayingjust stay a moment longer, it might be worth it.

‘Four of Arrows’ is an unselfish album that doesn’t promise to fix us, but is invested in the we, in the fact that all of us are here and drenched in it together. ‘Four of Arrows’ is a reminder that death is still death, and art is still art, and sometimes the two can meet on common ground and agree to speak to each other like adults. I’m not in favor of celebrating pain but in valuing vulnerability. This album seems to heal Great Grandpa rather than force them to mine for more trauma- and that healing glimmers through. It’s a genuine smile in the midst of a breakdown. ‘Four of Arrows’ doesn’t know what happens next, but it continues to thrive with vines stretched outwards. It imagines survival. The band coaxes grief out of wherever it’s nesting and exorcise it. 

The tedious Earth sign in me loves the moments in which Great Grandpa are technicians. In which they catch you on a hook before revealing that the song is more invested in grief than in celebration. When Dylan Hanwright brightly plays guitar despite the darkness of the lyrics. Or when the delicacy of Pat Goodwin’s piano is almost out of place amongst the noise of grief. Great Grandpa have mastered both the facade and the reveal. ‘Four of Arrows’finds itself obsessive, paranoid, with all mirrors facing inward. But it thrashes and claws. Great Grandpa go head first and explore nonetheless. They go out into the darkness, and they even come back.  

‘Four of Arrows’ is out Friday 25 October on Big Scary Monsters (UK) and Double Double Whammy (US)

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