March 30, 2017

LP: Hand Grenade Job - Devotionals

Hand Grenade Job practices the timeless act of devotion.

A devotional is a short prayer, often transcribed in written form, as an artifact of religious worship. There are daily devotionals, mantras of sorts to be read at a specific time with a specific intention. A quick Google search offers up a seemingly endless amount of websites providing devotionals, as well as hundreds of books of devotional literature ranging in price and style for sale. For those who actively practice religion, the devotional is embedded in their knowledge, but the word has also taken on a new meaning in recent years. Artists have begun to tag their releases as “devotional” on music sharing platforms like Bandcamp, and for quite some time, I associated the word devotional more with DIY bands’ facetious self-descriptions than anything religious. Hand Grenade Job’s new LP, Devotionals came out in the midst of this, but the album has an air to it of the devotional that exists somewhere between the artifact of prayer and the Bandcamp tag. Devotional doesn’t just mean a religious text, but anything that is characterized by devotion - something approached with dedication, earnestness, and ardency. If Hand Grenade Job’s new LP can be characterized by any single word, it is this kind of devotion.

Devotionals doesn’t seem to exist on the same cycle of time as most contemporary punk or even experimental music; each note feels suspended in time, lingering even as the song moves on. It is a sparse record, utilizing vocals more than any other instrument. However, members Beck Levy and Erin McCarley boast a wide variety of instruments in their repertoire, including the autoharp, accordion, and glockenspiel. Levy and McCarley share vocal duties, often singing in unison, with their voices forming a soft, strong two-person chorus. Most of the tracks clock in over four minutes, giving the listener enough time to really immerse themselves in the atmosphere of each song; it's an atmosphere that is not always pleasant or comfortable, but always is lent a beauty that does feel almost divine by Levy and McCarley’s plaintive vocals and chiming instrumentation. “Rohyphnol,” the second to last track on the album, embodies the sedative effect of the drug that it’s named for, yet has a sinister undercurrent to it that’s impossible to ignore. “I like the mornings best,” the song begins, “their cold substancelessness,” over a rising strum of ragged guitar, monotonous guitar. “Rohyphnol” is far from substance-less, but it evokes the listlessness of depression, the desire for oblivion, total neutrality, in a way that few songs do. On “Jupiter,” amidst images of boiling blood and bracelets that could be either simple accessories or markers of institutionalization, Levy and McCarley recount the fraught power dynamics that plague a troubled relationship through the repetition of a simple, brutally honest refrain: “She treated me more like a hurt dog than a human.”

Devotionals isn’t all dark, although the songs have a certain melancholic tinge to them. “New Year’s Day” is beautiful and bittersweet, evoking the simultaneous sense of potential and closing off that the first day of the new year evokes, singing against stagnation. “My friends won’t let me change,” Levy and McCarley sing. “Habits don’t change, we’re all the same.” “The True Story of the Monster of the Potomac” takes on the same melancholic tone, appraising a familiar city after having left, recounting memories of swimming in the river with a lover or intimate friend and showing how these memories have turned sour. “Lead in the water, heavy in my blood, currents in the river wait to suck me under,” they sing, going on to imagine themselves drowning and being known as “the monster of the Potomac” and haunting the next generation of lovers swimming in the river. Even in heartbreak, Levy and McCarley are able to parse out a story, even after drowning, they are capable of lingering on and making it apparent that there is still hope. “The Name” is possibly the most minimal song, but embodies a similar hope all the same. “Found what I was looking for,” they sing. “Not what I expected there.” Devotionals is a resonant album, and it’s the kind of experimental music we need today. Instead of approaching music making with a removed sense of irony, Hand Grenade Job weaponizes devotion to make their songs powerful, honoring their subjects and infusing their music with life.

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Listen to Hand Grenade Job on bandcamp.

THIS STAFF POST WAS CONTRIBUTED BY: 
Eva Silverman is a NYC/DC based writer and Libra. She enjoys experimental feminist literature, dogs, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She plays music occasionally as default handshake. You can follow her on Twitter and email her at evogirl98@gmail.com.