Since their first release in 2008, eccentric Brattleboro friends GREAT VALLEY have been nurturing their distinctive brand of weird-pop, rooting themselves in the fertile soil of New England DIY and blossoming into a beloved facet of that community among their musical peers.
So it may be somewhat disorienting to followers and fans to accept the transition to GRAPE ROOM, the latest project of Great Valley founding members Peter Nichols, Jo Miller-Gamble, alongside fellow Vermonter, Danny Bisette. Change is scary, sometimes even scarier than the reptilian monarchy of Lizards of Camelot.
But anyone familiar with Great Valley should know that they are not prone to the conventional, and as such Grape Room does not signify an end or a dissent, but rather the next tier of the vast conglomerate that is Great Valley Incorporated. In the words of Nichols, “Great Valley… has accepted a corporate position at GVInc. and hence retired from music.”
As it is an “incorporated entity” rather than a band, GV Inc and Grape Room’s aesthetic is formulated through the collective efforts of a variety of musical talents, all working and growing and influencing in tandem. For example, in an exciting new proclamation, members of fellow Brattleboro pals The Lentils will join in the impending live embodiment of Grape Room.
Integral to this structure is the fluidity for which it allows; as Nichols puts it, “Grape Room is the new eternal flame that can’t be extinguished, even as members come and go.”
Grape Room is not a whole, but rather just an element, just as any Great Valley founding members do not house the entirety of what constructs GV Inc.
With the announcement of Grape Room comes the release of their debut EP, WONKA SPACE 9, a brief, self-proclaimed “sort of prologue” to their impending full-length release, landing some time early in 2015. WONKA SPACE 9 encapsulates GV Inc’s aforementioned ideology, embracing the familiar, indefinable pop buzz of GV’s past works, but undeniably distinct all the same.
At only a little over 10 minutes Earth time, Wonka Space breezes by in a dizzy, captivating swirl of pop haze. There’s a dreamy quality to the tracks – perhaps not full REM sleep, but that swirly state before you’re fully awake, where the world is fuzzy and moves at a drifting pace where time ripples in erratic patterns, uninhibited by the conventions of reality. “Island Earth”, with its splashy, surf-adjacent guitar, drifts on like a slow-moving spaceship ambling through the galaxies. Set your craft on autopilot and sit, reclined, in space-aged comfort that is padded with the vague nostalgia of 60’s psych rock.
Even faster-tempo tracks like “Out in the Rain” have a sedate, nebulous quality that feels in a way, otherworldly – layers of echoing vocals are set against surging synth and the ludic clash of tambourine. Great Valley is no stranger to the concept album, so it’s not surprising that the tracks on Grape Room’s first release would fit together with such effortless authenticity. Each song is strengthened by its proximity to the next, creating a brilliant, if not aggravatingly concise, whole. WONKA SPACE 9 is a worthy debut – fun, hypnotic, and satisfyingly peculiar. Three listens in and I feel hip to the transition, and appropriately eager to hear more.
I hope that I am incorrect, but when GRAPE ROOM played our NEU MF 14′ in September I was left with the impression that their time on this astral plane was already very near its end. Perhaps the broadcast of this missive will bring to us REAL ANSWERS. – Dan Shea