Great Grandpa are children of the 1990s—that much should be obvious from the first second of the Seattle quintet’s debut, Plastic Cough. “Teen Challenge” leads proceedings with the kind of dirt-caked power chord progression and proudly ironic chorus—“Ooh ooh, always killin’ it,”—that will never be attributed to the present time no matter how enduring its pleasures. But here, “children of the 90s” is much more meaningful.
Great Grandpa have no qualms about acting on their youthful confusion. It’s alternately thrilling and mildly embarrassing. And rather than become the sum of their various musical proclivities, Plastic Cough is able to stand out and show that Great Grandpa can be torch bearers for people who are told they’re flawed, but know they really aren’t. While Built to Spill taught the 90s that subtle math-rock influences can have their place in grunge riffs, pop-punk acts like early Green Day taught everyone how to rant, and Great Grandpa are well-versed in both practices.
Guitarists Patrick Goodwin and Dylan Hanwright’s eerie sound shines through on “Grounded,” as both wind between dissonant off-centered arpeggios to a gentle melody played over pop chords. Singer Alex Menne matches with her often angular use of emphasis. When she sings, “Keep the present in the moment like it’s supposed to be/I don’t wanna be addicted to your vision,” during “Expert Eraser,” both “supposed” and “vision” are given raunchy inflection, leading the listener to feel like Menne is either excited to finally say what’s on her mind or just trying not to explode. And where the metaphor stops, the shamelessly straightforward and catchy chorus fills us in as Menne and company shout with all the power of every classic alternative anthem, “Fill us with good feels/You know that we’re helpless!”
Menne has a knack for odd, little phrasing choices that elevate Plastic Cough above the usual plainspoken indie fare. Menne seems to be interested in the way words sound phonetically rather than just poetically. In the chorus of “Fade” she sings, “Unfurl this spline/With crooked slack/That bends to look closer.” There’s a sense of uncertainty that comes with change within the song\’s theme, but words like “unfurl” and “spline,” and phrases like “crooked slack” feel like they hold something beyond meaning, reaching into a tactile territory where lyricists like Sadie Dupuis of Speedy Ortiz and Matt Berninger of The National have staked their claim. None of this, however, is to suggest that Great Grandpa doesn’t like to just have some fun, and that’s never truer than in the album closer “28 J’s L8r” (yep, that’s the actual title). Again in unison, Menne and the rest of the band sing the destined to be iconic slacker rock chorus, “Never thought the zombies would come/When I was smoking ganja at home/How am supposed to outrun/When I’ve been smoking ganja at home?” It’s not the band’s best outing, but it’s a surprisingly grounded song that, at the very least, suggests how unflinching this debut is. Yes, it’s an ode to a bad trip, but it’s also an ode to the band as a whole. As the music and lyrics revolve around each other, they’re both allowed to sound as complex or silly as they want to be.