A man with a guitar is about as common of a musical approach as one can encounter in the industry. This perhaps, is the one way in which Leeds, England singer-songwriter, Isaac Grinsdale, is selling himself short upon first glance. What would be more accurate but likely less instantly grasped, would be to see the up-and-coming composer surrounded by a complete band’s worth of instruments, all placed in front of a mixing console and scattered pages filled with parts and pieces of lyrical stanzas lining the floor.
All the same, it’s not a new musician’s look that people go scrambling to dissect when a new debut makes its way to the surface of public consciousness for enjoyment. No, it’s the tiny but powerful play button, unleashing those precious first few notes and words that get anticipation piling up in the mind. And with a simultaneously direct and broadly encompassing title like “Entertainment” for his debut EP, Grinsdale knows exactly how to leave people hanging in mystery until they cross the line into audible sound.
What follows with opening track, “Blind Leading the Blind,” is at least five seconds of acoustic guitar minor chord strumming – the kind of consistent, minimally pitch shifting, mid tempo strums that stir up thoughts of acoustic cuts of heavier alternative rock from bands like Red, Cold, and Thousand Foot Krutch. As the music continues to unfold with two layers of similar but independent clean tone, cyclical electric guitar, a case for presuming something of the above only grows. Yet, it’s only until Grinsdale himself is heard that any brace for aggressive and heavy impact is warranted. Presenting a clear, smooth voice that reveals only the barest of English accent inclinations as the ends of certain words trail off with soft vowel finishes, Grinsdale’s arrangements align themselves much more decisively with the kind of moody but more melodically grounded fare of Jimmy Eat World, Owen/Mike Kinsella, and American Football.
Certainly it wouldn’t be a stretch to see Grinsdale’s slightly somber choice of chord progressions and extremely vulnerable vocals over the concise four song EP possibly placed alongside the more emo legacies of last 90s, early 2000s like Modern Baseball, The World is a Beautiful Place and I’m No Longer Afraid to Die, and Say Anything. However, a distinct lack of embrace for anything remotely resembling more spoken recitation of lyrics or digging for a thinned and inarguably nasal vocal tone leaves Entertainment short a hallmark of emo stylization. Instead, the retention of a well supported voice amidst an otherwise very exposed part, gives Grinsdale an extra edge of flexible and relatable breathing room for listeners whose tastes may wander to and from the very edges of multiple neighboring genres like pop, punk, alternative rock, post-hardcore, and even math rock.
The latter style is one of the less immediately apparent dimensions of character unveiled over Entertainment’s run time (save for listeners who might have savored TTNG’s 10th anniversary acoustic take on their iconic Animals LP). Though for the beat driven listener, the seven count that covertly sneaks into the back half of “Nullius in Verba” or the more jarring snare hits that feign the sense of odd meter in the title track, ought to stoke a sense of intrigue surrounding Grinsdale’s compositional abilities and such hopeful enthusiasm doesn’t go unrewarded as each track plays out. After teasing odd meters and an ebb and flow of acoustic and electric tones, Grinsdale comes to capitalize on the extra attention paid to those shifts when closing track, “The Speed of Film” anchors its front half in a flurry of coordinated taps between strings and the body of his guitar – a take on acoustic instrumental guitar music that’s growing in listener appreciation but remains a playing technique not nearly as easy to execute as it is to first pick up said instrument. Add to his proficiency with the guitar and creativity in writing, the fact that all of Entertainment’s instruments were played by Grinsdale himself and that he also mixed the record. Suddenly, the imagining of this Leeds musician in a room filled with every tool one would need to make a record feels not only accurate but, justifiably appropriate for all Grinsdale manages to accomplish – and in a debut no less. Motivated by an ethos held by the band Refused, that, “as musicians we should be playing at the edge of our ability, and pushing the boundaries of our music at all times: Otherwise, we’re not playing the kind of music we should be,” the amount of painstaking attention to detail reflected in Entertainment’s final results show Grinsdale’s deep commitment to those words, which only sets his straightforward first impression that much further apart.
What Entertainment comes down to, is careful balance around the finer details of the music. Starting from a place of apprehensive ubiquity in a single acoustic guitar, Grinsdale slowly transforms his work into meticulously assembled mosaics. Entertainment’s different rhythms, tempos, and dynamics coexist in a way that is both sonically human and astutely refined. There is nothing one-dimensional or clear-cut about Isaac Grinsdale’s musicianship and that’s something always worth getting excited about – especially for a new artist where the sky is the limit.
Entertainment will be released tomorrow, 12 November 2019.
Look for it on iTunes and and streaming on Spotify.
Pre-orders are open now on Bandcamp.
Keep up with Isaac Grinsdale through his official website and these social media outlets: