During its 14 years as a band, Goner released four remarkable LPs. The last, 2013's Faking the Wisdom, cut a memorable line between the poignant narratives of late-period Joe Strummer and Big Star's insistent power pop, peppered by bits of R.E.M. and Springsteen. Trapped in dreary towns and surrounded by losers, the tragic characters of keyboardist Scott Phillips seemed so well developed that they threatened to step out of the music to share sad stories over cheap beer.
Though the five-song EP Tethers Down isn't a Goner record, it's the same songwriter and the same musicians, stamped now with the joke-Scandinavian name GNØER. The band has dropped the power-trio approach in favor of songs that are darkly danceable and heavily digitized. Goner may be gone, but the songwriting, the soaring hooks and the chemistry have evolved as GNØER.
"Gravity wins tonight/the speakers set to stun/the walls exposed and dripping with the poorly painted young," Phillips sings in the brutal, possibly autobiographical "Reunion Show." Phillips universalizes the experience of playing an apathetically received gig, zeroing in on the ache of age and the passage of time. "We're overlooked/flat dismissed/a reunion show of no one's favorite band." Greg Eyman makes a noisy, cathartic mess from his menacing bass line. It sounds as though GNØER is paving over the place Goner once stood.
On "Tonight's the Word," above pulsating electronica, Phillips explores the bleak parallels between kids staring out the window, "in love with the aching for a cinematic something," and the dejected adults they become, faces pressed to windows overlooking droning interstate traffic. Joyless urban imagery weaves throughout Tethers Down—the city, the beltline, the commuters. Escape seems an unattainable ideal. "There's molecules and galaxies/our birthright's infinity and cowboy chords and symphonies," Phillips sings over the trip-hop hints of closer "Cowboy Chords." But the song switches into a driving, euphoric insistence, its Krautrock love allowing this magnificently tense record to end with a tenuous ray of hope.
No, GNØER's not exactly a new start. Instead, it's a remarkable reinvention of a band we thought we knew, learning something new about itself.