Growing's music is dominated by guitars overlaid in a wash. No drums and only incidental percussive sounds. It draws strength from slight details -- a stray guitar lick here, a memorable series of riffs there -- laid over a sonic backdrop that changes schematically, like slides shuttered through a projector. Like most ambient rock music, the group's textural sounds can convey great beauty to its listeners, or sheer emptiness and boredom.
Growing is the creation of two men, Kevin Doria and Joe DeNardo. Not exactly a household name, not even within the saturated and competitive indie-rock scene, the group records for the respected label Troubleman Unlimited, and receives kind reviews of its work.
"For me, it's just been about making something that I like," says Doria when asked about the band's goals, "and make something that's unique." True, most indie-rock musicians say the same thing when asked if they have any ambitions for their work, as if to affect a cryptic and slightly disingenuous sort of modesty. (After all, if you don't have goals, why do you play music in public?) But in Growing's case, the comment seems appropriate.
Doria and DeNardo say they formed Growing in 2000. (The website for the group's former record label, Kranky, claims Growing began in the fall of 2001.) "We met in Olympia, Wash. We were both going to college there," says Doria. "At one point, Joe ended up moving into the house I was living in, and then we basically started playing together out of boredom." For the next few years, the two played around the nearby city of Portland, Ore.
The group found a home for its debut album, 2003's The Sky's Run Into the Sea, when it found itself opening for Fontanelle, a popular post-rock band on Kranky. "[Fontanelle's Paul Dickow] suggested that we send it to them because he thought they would be interested," says Doria. The two moved to New York in 2003, and now live in Brooklyn.
The title of The Sky's Run Into the Sea is a fairly random one; DeNardo says they got it from a French movie whose name he can't remember. "We just thought it was an interesting realm of words," he says. In contrast, Growing's new Color Wheel, one of several albums the group released since that 2003 debut, is a direct reflection of how the record sounds.
"We're not ramming any meaning down anybody's throat. But I feel like, if we're successful, there's a lot that people can glean from the associations between our music and the words that we use to name the songs and the records," says DeNardo. For example, the title of "Fancy Period," the 11-minute opener on Color Wheel, hearkens toward an American art movement between the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th century. The kaleidoscope was a primary influence on decorative arts created during the period. "People were trying to replicate the shapes and colors of the kaleidoscope on the quilts they were making," he explains.
It's no accident that an artistic period which yielded ornate crafts and things instead of, say, florid Renaissance oil paintings, is a primary influence on Color Wheel. Growing's music is about finding beauty in things that are functional, and finding artistic value in common items. (The same could be said of the group's sound, which departs from its droll instrumental rock origins into something fresh and new.) Color Wheel is highly programmatic, like a finely weaved quilt. "We definitely have a lot of structure. We definitely don't improvise much, if at all ever," says Doria.
On Growing's website, www.growingsound.com, you'll find a photograph from a recent gig in Philadelphia. The two musicians strum their guitars on stage while the audience sits on the floor. Some of them lie on the floor, staring into space or closing their eyes, while prisms from a stage light cascade over them.
This photograph, taken by Scott Slimm, may be the best way to summarize Growing's music, and better than words. As Elvis Costello once put it, sometimes you can't dance about architecture.
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