Grapetooth's Synthwave Revival: "Grapetooth"

Photography by Mica Kendall

Photography by Mica Kendall

by Mica Kendall

Whether the names Clay Frankel, lead singer and guitarist of Twin Peaks and Chris Bailoni, Home-Sick, ring a bell or not, the two frontmen of the up and coming band Grapetooth are undoubtedly taking the indie alternative music realm by storm. The duo’s rising potential in music caused the reputable record label Polyvinyl to sign them shortly after the release of their very first single, “Trouble,” which turned heads in the Chicago music scene and garnered over a million streams. Needless to say, the group’s crazy, earworm-esque single releases over the year including, “Trouble,” “Violent,” and “Red Wine,” caused a great degree of fan anticipation for a full Grapetooth album leading up to its release last month on November 9th.  


Prior to their album release, Grapetooth performed two sold-out shows previewing their new music at Lincoln Hall in Chicago and Baby’s All Right in Brooklyn, in addition to an album release show at Thalia Hall in Chicago. The crazy, enigmatic, high sprung energy that Frankel and Bailoni exude in their live shows include Frankel’s funky hip twisting dance moves and Bailoni’s ability to get the crowd riled up through his keyboard playing. Combined, their liveliness ensures that any Grapetooth concert is a highly memorable dance party. Though the concerts were few in numbers, Grapetooth garnered widespread social media attention from a number of videos showing audiences stampede the stage during “Trouble”. The overflow of fans would harmonize and jump on stage with the duo. However, the fun, party-like, nature of a Grapetooth show would not be complete if it weren’t for the catalyzing songs that ignite the memorable concert experiences for fans. This is precisely why Grapetooth’s debut album is so well crafted in translating the experience their live shows bring.

Grapetooth's self-titled debut album consists of 10 songs, including dance-like tracks like “Trouble” and “Violent,” and happy-go-lucky kumbaya tracks like “Mile After Mile” and “Hangover Sq”. In terms of musical resemblance, Frankel and Bailoni impressively crafted their debut album to be musically reminiscent to the era of the ’80s. Instrumentally, through their primary use of a cheap digital Yamaha synth board that Bailoni found in an alleyway, Grapetooth combines synthesizers and a drum machine commonly used in the top tracks of the ’80s and adds a personalized twist with their subtle inclusion of the kazoo, acoustic guitar, and harmonica in the album. While listening to the album, one can literally envision what Grapetooth song would go best with a film from the ’80s or ‘90s. One pictures Uma Thurman dancing with John Travolta to the track “Blood” or the Breakfast Club dancing in the library to “Imagine On.” Grapetooth’s album characteristically differs from the majority of mainstream albums that have been released in 2018, in the sense that Grapetooth does not have to rely on making the album thematic or conceptual. Seen in popular thematic albums like The 1975’s latest album “A Brief Inquiry into Online relationships focusing on the flaws of our technology-based modern age, and conceptual albums like Mitski’s “Be the Cowboy” that draws on a fictitious narrative surrounding loneliness, Grapetooth’s debut album is just purely a bundle of fun without any specific metaphoric meaning. The definitive allure that makes Grapetooth’s music so charismatic and unique is how the personalities of Frankel and Bailoni shine best through their lyrics and instrumentation.


In terms of musical rating, the majority of Grapetooth fans reacted positively to Grapetooth’s debut album, while in contrast, prominent publications like Pitchfork gave more critical responses. The foundational component of Grapetooth’s debut album exhibiting their personalities is exactly what Pitchfork found unalluring about their debut album. Rating the album an inadequate 5.9, the reviewer, in summary, acknowledged the catchy appeal of Grapetooth, but found that the duo fell short due to how “they trade in cheap fun not deep reflection” and “they keep their words brief, as if trying to hide the fact that they’re short on compelling ideas and honest effort.” I acknowledge the perception that lyrically Grapetooth may seem to fall short with their hit songs revolving around a repetitive chorus with “Trouble” and “Violent,” literally repeating the same two sentences in conjunction to the instrumental loop. However, I believe that the eight other tracks on the album prove otherwise with a variation of lyrical structure and instrumental usage beyond just Grapetooth’s signature synth beat.

Upon closer inspection of songs like “Hallelujah,” one of the slower tracks on the album, Frankel reveals he isn’t just lyrically delivering another silly, earworm, dance track. The song exhibits a sense of loneliness and self-reflectivity with the lyrics “cause no one likes being alone/ and no one likes working too hard”.  In addition, the track subtly displays a hint of a religious connotation to it with “I said to myself, Lord/ I can feel you moving by my side.” Correlative to another slow track on the album, “Mile After Mile,” the song is suggestive of a post break up song that lyrically gives off a sense of self doubt and personal solitude in the repeating chorus of Frankel softly singing “Oh was it on me at all?” and “Oh won't you call anymore?”

Despite the criticism, Grapetooth’s debut album genuinely fosters some of the best bops of 2018. My personal favorite off of the album is the track, “Death,” conveys the synthwave genre, making it truly infectious to listen to. Whilst listening to the track, you can envision how fun dancing to the song in person would be with its fast paced instrumentation accompanied by Frankel’s claps and “hey hey’s”. Additionally, the track “Imagine On” sounds like the perfect song to accompany Rainbow Road course in Mario Kart with its funky, energetic beat, that inevitably will make one want to bop their head or do a death drop.

Overall, Grapetooth’s album proves the revival of the 80’s fundamental sound is plausible in today’s music. The band’s popularity is only going to exponentially rise with the release of their debut album. There are currently no 2018 tour announcements for their debut album, but it is safe to assume a 2019 Grapetooth tour is possible. Though a bigger stage for a 2019 tour will be needed in order to accommodate for the crowd stampede during “Trouble,” fans can expect to walk out of a Grapetooth show with one of the most unique concert experiences of their lives.

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