In January, Gray Young planned to celebrate the release of their third album, Bonfire. They'd successfully crowd funded the record and self-released the disc with enough promotional muscle to garner early praise from some national outlets. The weather had other plans, however, and the January release party was postponed because of icy roads in Raleigh.
But that feels apt: For one, the trio's carefully paced compositions often tease their way to a climactic crescendo, tying guitar and bass into tightening lines as the drums ratchet tension into an inevitable, satisfying release. Second, the band's own development hasn't been without setbacks. Its 2010 sophomore album, staysail, found the band taking stylistic risks that didn't always work. But on Bonfire, Gray Young's best and most cohesive album, the risk-taking feels more calculated and, thus, more successful.
Gray Young's 2008 debut, Firmament, set a fine foundation, taking cues from archetypal post-rockers like Mogwai and meeting them with the structure and concision of art-minded arena rockers such as U2 or Radiohead. Already, the band was mingling accessible impulses with grand compositional ambitions. But the increased prominence of vocalist Chas McKeown and more clearly punctuated guitar and bass lines on staysail diminished some of the band's atmospheric grandeur. At least it indicated an evolution in the band's inclinations.
On Bonfire, those past missteps have proven instructive. McKeown's voice isn't buried, but he lets the rush of his guitar drag across his syllables, like a wave crashing against the shore. Propelling the rhythm and complementing the melody, bassist Dan Grinder proves a steady bridge between McKeown's guitar and drummer Jeff Dopko, who pushes the song's tempo with spare cymbal flickers and burly rolls. The middle ground Gray Young once explored between Mogwai and U2 now feels stably colonized. And, after a minor setback, Gray Young seems ready to celebrate an accomplishment.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Twin upgrades."