Good Grief – Here Come the Waterworks (EP Review, Stream, Live Video Presentation)
by Steven Spoerl
Before getting too far into this specific review/essay, a slew of disclaimers are in order. First, I play drums in a band that includes a member of Good Grief. Second, all four of these members became close friends and supporters of my work in and outside of Heartbreaking Bravery and are tethered to the same self-created family that we all desperately needed to survive in a small, isolated city in the middle of Wisconsin. Third (and possibly the most important of these three): I didn’t know any of these people until I saw Good Grief play for the first time nearly a decade ago, an instance that immediately registered as one of those world-caving experiences of startling discovery; I knew these were my people before they allowed me into their family.
If entertainment truly lives and dies at the intersection of talent, connections, and insistence, I will go to bat for this band long after they hang up their cables.
That last statement is one I can say with an abundance of conviction, as I was still screaming recommendations at people in passing (and in person) in a four and a half year absence. For a long while it seemed like the band would be permanently dissolved, leaving behind a memorable legacy for the people who were there the first time around, packing in basements and losing their voices screaming along to songs like “Basic Math” and “Flirting With Death“. All that was left was a distant, desperate hope for a reunion or for the songs that never got recorded at the end of the run to find their way to a posthumous release (while holding on to the several hours of live footage I’d amassed with a white-knuckle grip).
In late 2016, the band returned and filled out a local bar that was packed with enough pent-up longing and energy from both the band and the audience that the place nearly disintegrated in the moment. Shortly after, there was a promise of more shows and new material. Here Come the Waterworks is the fulfillment of both that promise and the platform for a handful of songs that were nearly lost apart from that previously mentioned footage (along with the scattered clips of a select few other people).
A handful of post-reunion shows and the band’s picking up right where they left off, a little more poised, a little more learned, and more willing to challenge themselves. All of those points are made abundantly clear on “State of Disbelief”, “Blood and Kin”, and “Gumming Up the Works”, the half of the EP that’s entirely new material. The other half belongs to the songs that were rescued (“High Society”, “Holy Smokes”, and “In Through the Outhouse”), which have been brushed up and injected with a startling sense of galvanization.
Here Come the Waterworks also represents the most evenly split release of the band’s discography, which now spans 2 EP’s and 2 full-length efforts. Half of these songs are led by Colin Bares, who continues to astonish here as he has in previous projects The Coral Riffs, The Weasel, Marten Fisher, The Cost of Living (a project that was born out of Good Grief’s initial dissolution which also retained drummer Jess Nowaczyk), and Mr. Martin and the Sensitive Guys (another project that Good Grief bassist Jarad Olson lent his considerable talent [in addition to spearheading a solo project]). The other half are headed up by Dirk Gunderson, who carved out a name for himself through not only Good Grief but Heavy Looks (which also features Olson) but also by way f some impressive solo work by way of The Deadly Vices.
Across six songs, everyone lays it on the line, committing to their material with a newfound understanding of what they can create. Guitars are left out of tune in spots to create dissonance, vocal overlays enhance the atmosphere in multiple spots, and when the harmonies hit, they hit hard. Gunderson and Bares both provide some of the best work of their respective careers. Their off-kilter pop and unrepentant punk influences still thrive at an intersection that owes a meaningful debt to acts like The Unicorns and The Libertines while offering enough distinct personality to create its own category.
Smart composition, clever hooks, and no shortage of attitude are littered across this EP, which is comprised of nothing but high points. The band’s thoughtfulness is evident throughout Here Come the Waterworks but never sacrifices the immediacy that’s drawn so many people into their circle over the years. There’s no room for error or filler and each member has an intrinsic understanding of how the others work, which translates into a tight-knit formula that elevates the material to a significant degree; Bares’ pained vocals are served by Gunderson’s ambient leads while Gunderson’s unbridled tenacity is enhanced by a characteristically busy and propulsive rhythm section (and so on).
All of it works just as it’s always worked, only this time around the band’s fully aware of their most minuscule machinations and have fine-tuned every facet of their operation. It’s a level of dedication that’s created a snarling behemoth; the years where they stepped away are met here with a vengeance. “Gumming Up the Works”, especially, feels like a declaration of intent; this is a band that’s here to strengthen their own sizable mark. Here Come the Waterworks is a new chapter for the band, and their future, suddenly, has risen from absence and bloomed into an open boundlessness.
When all’s said and done, the last note played, Good Grief resuscitated from the urn’s ashes, this EP stands as a spotless example of what this site was built to celebrate, something that doesn’t come as much of a surprise given that Good Grief were a fundamental part of this entire site’s creation and will continue to be an integral part of Heartbreaking Bravery going forward. It’s a band that’s entwined with the DNA of everything this place — and like-minded places — hope to accomplish: to serve as a platform where elevating hidden or overlooked voices becomes not only possible but the desired goal.
Geographical privilege, lack of funds, lack of notoriety… none of those things matter. All that matters is the music and the people responsible for the music’s creation. This is a band of people doing their best to be kind, writing songs that could go toe-to-toe with an entire arsenal of forgettable acts who are gifted late night TV slots, but there’s a modesty to what they do that none only makes it difficult to gain traction but be seen or heard at all. Hopefully, this post doesn’t wind up being the only piece to attempt a richly-deserved course correction.
Still, Here Come the Waterworks stands proudly as an astonishing release that deserves a far wider audience than it’ll likely get as it’s forced to stare down disappointingly arbitrary mitigating factors. Even with that being the case, the EP’s a testament to the bands who know that making a noticeable impact in the macro doesn’t matter if you can meaningful shape the lives of the people who are present enough to be reached. It’s a record that’s been around five years in the making and it’s a record that makes me proud of the people I chose to align myself with: a piece of art that re-enforces those decisions with abandon.
Good Grief were one of a very select handful of bands who changed the direction of my life and these six songs casually reflect those moments. They made my hometown feel more like an actual home. We lived in basements, we drank together, we suffered with each other, we celebrated with each other, and we did our best to make something meaningful, not just on our own but together. It’s beyond heartening to have that indomitable spirit not only survive an extended break but be rekindled into the roaring fire that is Here Come the Waterworks.
Listen to (and watch) Here Come the Waterworks below, pick it up here, and keep an eye on this site for more updates on one of the best bands more people deserve to know.