Timeshare, is sadness.
The album opens gently, with a few gently strummed chords, the pitter-patter of drums and Vivian McConnell’s voice. Then, 38 seconds into “Dark Ones,” the bass and an angular guitar a la Dirty Projectors kicks in; it was at that point I knew that Grandkids could not stay in Champaign much longer.
The beauty of Timeshare is evident that quickly, 38 seconds into the album. It’s a complex piece of art, with many layers of sound and intricacy, and I would put it up there among the best albums I’ve heard in the last few years — from anyone.
Of course, there were hints that this was coming, the band’s eponymous EP and Sister Walls EP being the most immediate examples. Those releases certainly prepared the band to make Timeshare, but I’m not certain Timeshare is the outcome listeners might have predicted for Grandkids after listening.
Since the Grandkids EP was released in 2010, the band has become a marvelously cohesive unit, which is one of the most obvious take-aways from Timeshare. The degree to which the band has grown is audible. Some of the credit for the masterful sound on the album must be given to the engineer at Pieholden Suite Sound, Matt DeWine. But, a studio and a good engineer can only take a band so far. What really makes the record special is how good Grandkids is as a group.
There are moments of individual brilliance on Timeshare for each of the band’s four members. Evan Metz’s guitar chops shine brightly on the album’s opening track and on “Not This, Never This,” but what is most impressive is his versatility. From the angular riffs in “Dark Ones,” to the controlled cacophony on “Gold Rain,” and on to the western swing of “Tension Bridge,” Metz moves flawlessly from song to song, adding atmosphere and animation.
Grandkids: "Dark Ones"
Meanwhile, Adam Gorcowski’s cello often fades toward the back, but is so lush and adds so much character that it would be hard to imagine this album without a string arrangement. Gorcowski’s work is especially notable on “Powder Blues,” a song in which Phil Sudderberg’s drums are also on prominent display. Sudderberg also has moments of brilliance on “Not This, Never This,” but creates interesting rhythms so often on the album that it is hard to pin down individual tracks in which he does not contribute something great.
Even with outstanding talent as a group in each and every one of Timeshare’s ten songs, it is McConnell that steals the show. Her voice has a deep, sultry quality to it, like Erika Wennerstrom of Heartless Bastards or Jenn Wasner of Wye Oak. McConnell possesses wider range than either of those two, however, which makes Grandkids’ music a bit gentler and even more pleasing.
On Timeshare, McConnell’s voice projects, as it should, to the fore. In the quieter moments of the album, on songs like “Engines” or “Go Through With It,” her vocals are so warm and inviting it feels as though she is in the room, serenading you individually. She knows when to cut loose, however, when to let her voice howl or come the slightest bit unrestrained. She does so with aplomb on “Not This, Never This,” and “Collegiate Peaks" (listen below).
And of all the fantastic songs on Timeshare, “Collegiate Peaks” is the standout. Like “Ethylene” from their 2010 EP, “Collegiate Peaks” is the song we’re destined to hear on the radio, to get stuck in our heads, to whistle as we walk, and click on repeatedly in our iTunes library: it’s a real banger.
I honestly love every track on Timeshare, though. Each song offers a different glimpse into Grandkids’ influences — Bob Dylan, Wilco (whose masterpiece, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, was recorded at the same Pieholden Suite Sound), even John Coltrane — but no track ever sounds like an imitation or anything other than an authentic expression of the brand of folk rock Grandkids desires to perform.
That authenticity is clearly a credit to the songwriting skills of McConnell and the ability of the musicians supporting her songs. When I say this album is one of the best I’ve heard from anyone in recent years it is no hyperbole. Timeshare represents the first step on what I believe will be a fantastic journey for Grandkids, which is precisely what makes me sad.
In my own selfish interest, I want Grandkids to remain in Champaign forever. I want them to play upstairs at Mike 'N Molly’s every couple of months, to leave just for short periods of time and then return to grace us with their music once again. I want to be able to enjoy them close-up forever; but what Grandkids has made in Timeshare is exactly the quality of music I travel to see live routinely. And Timeshare is too good for me to expect Grandkids to continue to call Champaign their home.
As fantastic as Champaign is, Grandkids deserve better. They deserve to be in Chicago, or Brooklyn, or Austin, or Portland — somewhere where they can be appreciated by masses, not just a small (but incredible) music scene like the one we have here.
So, Timeshare makes me sad.
It makes me sad because it is that good. It is so good that I will have to take in every opportunity I can to see Grandkids in Champaign before they inevitably take off for greener pastures, as well they should.