Five years after debuting in Little Rock (performing then as the Benders), Grand Serenade has finally delivered its first full-length CD, “Lean Times.” With 12 songs of lush indie rock — big on soaring melodies and hooky guitar arrangements — the band lives up to the reputation it's built as one of Arkansas's strongest acts.
When it first surfaced, every conversation about the band started with, “They're a bunch of high school kids from Heber Springs,” conjuring images of Camaros, pickups, keggers at the lake and, of course, a soundtrack of stale classic rock and country music.
But even early Benders shows at Vino's revealed a sophisticated melodic sense and much promise. They may very well have been sneaking beer at Greers Ferry, but these kids were not listening to local radio. It was clear from the beginning that Heber Springs had produced a young band every bit as current as what was coming out of Silverlake or Williamsburg.
The question, of course, was whether the band would continue to be significant once its novelty wore off as its members reached legal drinking age and left Heber for the greener rock 'n' roll pastures of Little Rock.
After the name change (while the Benders was a great name, Grand Serenade is much more descriptive and accurate), the band continued to build its reputation with the strength of its live shows and, eventually, an EP, which featured “Colour My World.” The song was THE standout track on the first Localist compilation and was a perfect vehicle for Kyle Mays' vocals and Jordan Trotter's guitar.
“Lean Times” further establishes Grand Serenade as Little Rock's best indie rock band. At the heart of the album is a constant tension between melody and rhythm. Beautifully lush guitars and high-reaching vocals fight it out with bombastic and driving drums and bass.
This is music that sounds like summer. Not in a West Coast Brian Wilson way, but a take-the-top-off-the-Camaro-and-drive-around-the-lake-really-fast kind of summer. Lyrically, Heber's native sons replace typical indie rock cynicism with bright optimism. In an ode to moonlit beaches, Mays sings, “Good luck finding reason why I can't do more. When you tasted like peaches, it's all I could live for.”
One of the band's biggest strengths is its mature arrangements, but at times Grand Serenade gets a bit too ambitious and some complex arrangements tend to distract. An otherwise perfect “Well” ends with an unnecessary shuffling coda — perhaps cool live, but confusing on record.
Comparisons to indie rock darlings the Stills are inevitable — both bands share a common melodic sense and love for driving eighth notes, but if this record is reminiscent of anything specific, it's “War”-era U2 (“U Needed Action,” “Bond Girls”).
All but one song was recorded at Blue Chair studio in Austin, Ark. (“Try Harder” is a home recording dating back to 2003), and it's by far the best-sounding record to come out of the studio to date, no doubt in part because Trotter is an engineer at the studio.
“Lean Times” proves Grand Serenade is all grown up, but every bit as compelling as when they were just “a bunch of high school kids from Heber Springs.” - Jason Weinheimer | Arkansas Times
"If their live show is anywhere near as good as their CD (which I can't stop spinning), Grand Serenade might just steal the show. Heck, they might just steal your date. This aptly named group cleaves to the melodic and romantic end of the garage-rock spectrum. Giant, crashing chords and big beats give way to tight Kinks-style pop and epic Smiths-inspired ballads about aching teen-age love. Catch this band!" - Chris Davis | Memphis Flyer
"Heber Springs' indie rock band "Grand Serenade" was formed in 2002 by rhythm guitarist Kyle Mays, lead guitarist Jordan Trotter, bassist Trevor Ware and drummer Justin Seymore. These high school classmates refer to college radio favorites Nada Surf, David Bowie, and the Smiths as some of their influences. Grand Serenade is crowned by many Arkansans' as the new local indie kings.
Their British influenced brand of indie rock is turning heads in the Little Rock music scene. Melodic guitars framing Kyle's swooping Morrissey style vocals, on the songs "Color My World", "Golden Receiver" and "Telescopes" are pop classics. The band's boyish good looks make them irresistible to the indie rock-type girls. But image or not, the band is making a name for themselves on the merits of their music. Their new EP Crashing Cars is college radio gold. By far, the best local recording I've heard this year.
The cd was recorded at the helm of Darian Stribling of Blue Chair Studios in Austin, Arkansas. There's a great pop sensibility and
droning guitar riffs that encompasses the recording. The songs allude to isolation, romantic lament and other common pop afflictions. The last track "Empty Threat" builds to a climaxing ending with its lyrics, "If we have the time…I'll show that music comes from inside. Kyle Mays' vocal slowly merges into the wall of guitars. It's reminiscent of 80's shoegazer bands like 'The Verve" and "Lush". A perfect song to end the record while leaving the listener wanting more.
Local publication The LocaList included the track "Color My World" on a cd compilation of Arkansas artists. The song is probably the strongest track for radio airplay or a video. All of these guys are in their early 20's and hold their own as if they were veteran musicians. I've seen this band at Vino's and they put on a great live show. Jordan Trotter's Strat through a Fender Twin makes for a classic and appealing sound on stage. - Greg Holland | Little Rock Free Press
"...one of this towns fastest rising stars. These guys have gained quite a following this year and with good reason - the rocking. It's
crisp and precise without being too affected, and great for driving to. And really, isn't that the true test?" -Larry Hunter | Little Rock Free Press