Graded on a Curve:
The Giraffes,
Flower of the Cosmos

Heavy rockers The Giraffes formed in mid-’90s New York City and released a slew of records through the aughts of Century 21. They’ve put out a few this decade as well, though there was also a hiatus from 2011-’14. Flower of the Cosmos is their latest; featuring co-founders Damien Paris and Andrew Totolos on guitar and drums respectively, longtime vocalist Aaron Lazar and bassist Hannah Moorhead, the sound is powerful and punky with touches of technical flair and inextricable ties to the harder side of the 1990s-2000s Alt-rock shebang, though as the ten songs unwind, they avoid succumbing to the less appealing aspects of that era/ sound. It’s out on vinyl and digital August 2 via Silver Sleeve Records.

The Giraffes are described as a cult band, and I won’t argue, though it seems to me that their sound, if not the stuff of massive popularity, was and remains a commercially viable proposition. And they’ve certainly sold some records across the last couple decades, along with touring and sharing stages with such noteworthy acts as Eagles of Death Metal, Gogol Bordello, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Interpol, The Strokes, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, and…Blowfly.

But alas, while I’ve been cognizant of The Giraffes’ existence over the years, I’ll confess to having spent very little time with their stuff. In fact, Flower of the Cosmos is serving as my proper introduction to the band, whose sound has been likened to Queens of the Stone Age, Mars Volta, Big Business, Fu Manchu, and Black Sabbath. Additional contrasts have been made, but these are the ones that stuck out to me after a casual listen.

Upon digging in more intently, they put their best collective foot forward with album opener “Can’t Do This in Your Head,” pairing heaviness commencing with a thunderous bass line to cooking velocity. It’s a combination supporting the reported mayhem of their live shows. It’s undeniably Lazar’s vocals that put me in a ’90s frame of mind, but his heavy rock soul-wailing connects as non-noxious by hanging in proper balance with the instrumental ripping throughout the record.

“Like Hate” slows things down to a bruising riff gallop that brandishes flashes of prog-metal. Instrumental adeptness is quickly apparent (The Giraffes were initially a power trio), but they don’t lose track of the punk in their foundation. Indeed, punk is a significant ingredient in “Faks,” though the cut also reveals a handiness with the occasional poppish hook.

It’s followed by “Golden Door,” which begins by wedding a chunky riff to a thunking cowbell and a lively drum pattern. It’s a combo that might inspire visions of reheated Fu Manchu (I briefly thought of Mountain), though The Giraffes transcend easy categorization by working up a bold groove and yet refusing to sit structurally still. Altogether, it’s a standout track, in part because Lazar’s singing blossoms into an unequivocal positive.

Lazar continues to impress in “Fill Up Glass.” It’s another selection wielding a stealthy pop undercurrent amid a mingling of intricacy and the anthemic. Along the way there are cyclical tech flourishes, but during the choruses the band really leans into the heaviness without floundering into the hackneyed, in part through some attractive guitar noddle flurries.

“Bubble Scum” settles down into a hard rock riff strut complete with guitar pedal effects that’s likeable if far from amazing. I’m much fonder of “Raising Kids in the End Times,” which moves at a quick clip and once again blends heightened skill with punk’s no-nonsense sensibility (the latter spilling over into the lyrics). The Giraffes might be from NYC, but there’s a part of their approach that reminds me of the late ’80s-early ’90s Cali bands that were raised on the punk scene but weren’t afraid to flex the muscles of instrumental aptitude.

These developments eventually brought us Mars Volta, so I don’t think I’m barking up the wrong tree here. “Dorito Dreams” makes no significant change to the stylistic recipe, though the attack is honed to a sharpness that could get the skateboarders and fretboard shredders rejoicing in roughly equal measure. That’s nice! It’s in penultimate track “Crude Wave” that I first comprehended the cited nod to fans of The Ventures. Near the end of the cut a smidge of Dick Dale’s influence sprang up, and that’s nice, too.

“Romance” is the final track, and it kinda registers as such, but without faltering into bombast; there are a few grand sweeping gestures and a near rave-up conclusion. Sharply produced by Tony Miamone, Flower of the Cosmos is big but not slick and it rocks with intelligence. Offering a sound that was once more frequently heard (though not ubiquitous), The Giraffes stick out a bit in 2019, and if all their moves don’t please me equally, their latest batch qualifies as refreshing.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
B+

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