Some artists just love to do it the old fashioned way. While technology has certainly been helpful in promoting artists and creating new styles of music, one can easily make an argument that electronical equipment makes hiding musical flaws easier, even making “a shitty band sound really fucking good” according to Channing Lewis, guitarist and occasional vocalist of Grand Champeen. He continues making his strong point, saying that “it results in a recording with zero in the way of character”. The four members of the group based out of Austin, Texas agree wholeheartedly. They proudly state that their fourth album, Dial “T” for This was created “without the aid of Pro Tools or any other editing software”, making it quite a rarity in a contemporary music industry that is quick to abandon patience and hard work. Part of their reason for taking such precautious measures was that they admittedly called their previous album, 2003’s The One That Brought You, a result of pure sloppiness. “We had like six guitar tracks on every song,” Lewis states, “in order to just mask all our mistakes”. A bit too modest, perhaps? Some may consider their outlook a bit surprising, as The One That Brought You recieved primarily good acclaim, with publications such as Rolling Stone giving it a very reputable three and a half stars. Still, it shows good indication that Grand Champeen are never satisfied. Perhaps they are perfectionists, but hey, usually musicians who strive for absolute perfection produce welcoming results. Grand Champeen has actually been around since the late 80s, with guitarists and vocalists Michael Crow and Channing Lewis meeting drummer Ned Stewart at a boarding school in Virginia. The trio formed a band called The Frosted Megawheats in hig school, later adding Will Minor on bass. After releasing several local mini-albums, the four moved to Colorado after graduation in 1993. The four stuck together, forming a new band called Mucho Maas in addition to recording another album. Both albums are hard to come by, though I’m sure the current members of Grand Champeen would laugh at the musical immaturity in comparison to their recent work. Minor left the band a few years later and the remaining trio decided to rename Mucho Maas to Grand Champeen, adding Rob Hargrove on bass. They released their breakthrough debut Out Front by the Van in January 2000 and found quick local success through their catchy and accessible alternative songs. After the debut’s release, Hargrove left the band to pursue his law studies at the University of Texas. Alex Livingstone joined the band as their third in their existence, playing on their sophomore follow-up Battle Cry for Help and their breakthrough third album The One That Brought You. They also covered Elvis Costello’s “No Action” in a Glurp tribute album. For their fourth album Dial “T” for This, the lineup is finally settled with Crow, Lewis, Stewart, and Livingstone.
As Lewis has clarified for us a number of times, Dial “T” for This is certainly the band’s most mature effort. The album title serves as a slight tribute to Alfred Hitchcock’s classic thriller, Dial M for Murder, though the band also likes how “the soft th’ contrasts with the hard ‘T’ in a way that ‘M’ and murder do not”. Whatever their odd reason may be, the album serves as a very enjoyable collection of progressively mature. While their previous albums were more consistent in the style and tone of youthful distortion and fun power chords, Dial “T” for This focuses on the band’s admiration for several genres. There is more use of piano, vocal variations, and even strings (played by Michael Crow) on the short but pleasing opener “What It Beats”. A bit of a country influence is also slightly sketched on tracks like “Gonna Be the Death of Me”, showcasing a portion of the band’s natural Texas environment. Despite the various treatment of influences and new attempts, the band still show their best work in catchy pop songs such as the fantastic “Cities On the Plain”, which is a showcase of both the vocals of Crow and Lewis. Each back each other up through the irresistable chorus, which works through a hook in which the two’s vocals contrast nicely with each other their steady rush of guitars. “Wounded Eye” is another of the same catchy element, though this one borrows some common influences such as The Replacements and The Lemonheads. “Don’t litter me with your love,” the band chimes in at the perfect time, telling off an unlucky victim who confessed their love at an equally horrible time. The vocal range is quite impressive, especially during the last chorus where the vocals come only a few keys away from reaching early stages of glam, fortunately for only a very brief period of time. “Different Sort of Story” was written by bassist Alex Livinstone, showing why he should be their most coveted bassist of the previous two. A series of guitar chords is complemented by an occasional solo, all over a simplistic vocal melody that turns out to be quite effective in combination with the rapid rhythmic elements of Livingstone and Stewart. It looks like Grand Champeen decided to grow up a bit more for Dial ‘T’ for This, though no worries are necessary. They still have the proper youth to turn out some of the most excitably catchy songs of their career.