Review: Casual – “Grip the Grass”
In our post-post-(post?)-modern era of digital proliferation, the output of any given genre is diluvian, threatening to wash over even the most astute listener and leave only an arm reaching above the wave in some last silent plea for a life-preserver, or otherwise keeping them stranded in the middle of an endless blue sea, waiting for the doves they sent out to find a landmass to rest on in the form of a new Arms Aloft LP or that Frank Ocean record everyone is stoked on. Personally, the number of bands I LOVE releasing new music this year can only possibly be eclipsed by the number of bands releasing new music that I would love if I only took the time to listen to them, or had them recommended to me by a friend, or otherwise stumbled across a review of their newest release on some humble music blog.
What I’m getting at here is that, no matter how well you manage to stay on top of new releases, there’s always going to be some band, in some rural town somewhere half the span of the globe away from you, releasing a banger that you’ll be lucky to hear three years hence when you’re going down some late-night bandcamp wormhole, or you saw they got added to Fest. It’s cool if you’re a music fan – discovering a new band that caters to your aesthetic sensibilities can and should be an awesome, regenerative experience. For musicians, I’d imagine it’s different – though, I haven’t done my due diligence and asked any of the ones I know. Nobody fades into obscurity anymore; they just toil in it. The path to success and acclaim may have always been arbitrary, but in 2016, it’s damn senseless.
Casual is one of those long-running suburban punk projects that anyone marginally involved in the north Jersey punk scene should rightfully know about, but whom might have escaped the attention of people in an adjacent area like the Lehigh Valley, despite being Square of Opposition alums. Based in Flemington – where they spend a good portion of their time helping to make the area’s music and arts scene thrive by running the Flemington DIY community spot at 90 Main – the fam in Casual are veterans of the mid-aughts fermentation of the shift in punk aesthetic that began in the 90s with bands like Jawbreaker and Samiam.
Their new six-song EP “Grip the Grass” is an example of tight songwriting and stylistic mastery, to the point where it may – in the short term – actually be detrimental to their increased exposure. That may read as some kind of backhanded diss, but actually, it is a high compliment.
Consider it through the case of this unsolicited analogy I’ve prepared. In total, I don’t know a lot about sports, but specifically in terms of hockey, I know a fair amount. One of the things you come to understand once you’ve watched a good deal of hockey is that the players on the ice who are structurally doing the best job are the ones the lay-fan will almost never notice. The average viewer watching from the stands or from home notices the players who make mistakes, the ones who go out of position to lay a thunderous hit on an opponent but leave a key patch of ice undefended in the process, or the ones who deviate from the coach’s style in order to score highlight reel goals. The players who stay in position, stay out of the penalty box, and try to work within the team’s system rather than make heroic individual efforts – they rarely have their names called by the play-by-play announcer, and your general, passive hockey fan might mistake their quality gamesmanship for lack of ability when, in fact they’re doing everything right.
That, my friends, is the band Casual. They know exactly how to write a solid punk jam, and they do it exceedingly well over the course of six tracks and just over ten minutes. It’s almost clinical, the way these songs are arranged and performed. It’s the kind of collection of songs that someone who listens to punk records all day might put on and absentmindedly enjoy without really connecting to. At the same time, though, I like to envision a kid out there – not yet jaded and burnt out by too many Spotify playlists, or being knocked down in the pit, or by their friend giving them a cruddy Hot Water Music stick-n-poke – who is going to hear “Grip the Grass” in a few years and have their wig split by how efficiently catchy it is.
Recorded at In the West in New Brunswick on old-school half-inch analog tape, “Grip the Grass” sounds as much like a 90s release as it often feels. I know snobs – *cough*Kev*cough* – that beef with any new release that isn’t some beautifully-layered, digital artifice, but I know I’m not alone in finding Casual’s throwback methodology charming. Yes, the riffs are buried in the mix a bit, but think of how good it feels when you listen to a song with hard to understand lyrics over and over until you finally figure what the heck they’re actually saying. Listening to a song like the EP’s opener “Smoked Spitely” multiple times, until you realize they’re absolutely slaying that guitar lead after the first verse, can be a similarly gratifying experience.
For fans of quick and catchy, bass-driven punk songs with lyrics that tackle the archetypal topics of the modern genre – such as feeling like an out-of-place weirdo in social circumstances, and having trouble maintaining interpersonal relationships – 2016 is a killer year with a lot to be stoked about. Don’t let Casual fly under your radar. Bump their jams on the way to your community college class or while you deliver bread to convenience stores at 4 AM (or whatever it is you do). If you’re local, check out one of the shows at 90 Main in Flemington.
STAND OUT TRACKS: “Vacation (From Ourselves)”, “Smoked Spitely”, “Dying Lawns Insisting on Being Watered”