Nestled in southeastern Texas, Groves is a small city known for its pecans. Wiley Choate planted 2,500 pecan trees in the area in 1919, a tidbit of history that made it “a city amid the groves”, complete with the annual Groves Pecan Festival to top things off. On the other side of the country, three Los Angeles transplants from the city use it as their band’s namesake. GROVES originally released music as Barely Blind, with their 2011 record, Wilder Child of a Thousand Suns, serving as wildly underrated indicator of what these guys had to offer. Six years and one rebrand later, GROVES have abandoned gritty pop rock for darker, slick, alt-pop vibes on their debut EP, Not for Nothing.
Duly inspired by the west coast, this EP borrows from the guitar-driven, vaguely electronic, melodic tendencies of bands like Night Riots and Atlas Genius. Like Imagine Dragons and Night Riots did with Continued Silence and Howl, Not for Nothing serves as a sampler for the band’s different visions, the beginning of a slow rollout of the band to the general public. Three years since their rebranding, GROVES seem to have a comfortable grasp of what they’re doing. There are no remnants of the Punchline influence that they had as Barely Blind, with the six songs here possessing a well-produced, radio-friendly disposition to them.
“Watch Me” is a strong indicator of the band’s thrust towards alternative radio. It only takes a few seconds for the song to wash itself in the Los Angeles sun. With the right mix of romance, poppiness, and edge, the song takes hold of the listener with a tight grip. No other song on the EP has the same sort of inherent accessibility as this one, though a few get close. “Ender”, which has been faring well on KROQ’s “Locals Only” charts, has a catchy chorus that draws itself from the haze of shaded, airy vocals and tingly guitars. Lead singer Stephen Salisbury sings, “Hear me all ender / Can you help me see the light?”, behind a tide of forceful guitars and pushing guitar riffs.
While they’re comfortable with their execution on this EP, a question remains as to what they should be doing. For all the moments of crisp confidence and tight guitarwork on tracks like “Swim”, there are songs like “Urges”, which feels big but has some trouble justifying its brooding intensity that could’ve been expressed in other ways. It makes sense that the band doesn’t have all the questions answered on their first release. By painting broad strokes, GROVES don’t box themselves in too early in the game. They seem more adept at embracing a west coast haze as opposed to more dramatic flair, but those questions are ones that can be answered on a more thorough full-length release.
The inherently limited nature of the EP takes precedent here, as the band compromises nailing down their best ideas in favor of trying out an array of options, without a lot of space to move between the two. Not for Nothing isn’t as succinct of a package as it could be, though its peaks suggest that this band has the potential to excel if they go down the right path. For a band from a small city in Texas best known for its pecans, the path may weigh steady for GROVES, as they indulge in the glitz and style of the west coast city on Not for Nothing.