Comprised of Michael Conner, Evan Eustis, John Hansen, Michael Melgoza and Randy Strauss, Idiot Grins is an Oakland-based band that are known for their R&B/soul/rock sound. State of Health is their third record and was released back in December 22nd. The 12-track record features the background vocals of The Byrd Sisters and various instrumentalists.
“First you’re born then you’re crying” is the stretchy, opening line of the first track “Get Busy Dying.” It’s a reflective opener, one that is conducive to existential waters where you swim through the flooding synths and drums. In “Frock,” Idiot Grins abandons the initial seriousness and takes you to the dancefloor with the bouncy percussions and trombones where they are joined by the background vocals of The Byrd Sisters. The three sisters amplify the festive zest of their songs. For instance, in “That’s Some Funky Business,” their vocal presence makes the track feel faster than midtempo and adds a punch of zealous flair.
Aside from R&B and blues territory, Idiot Grins also venture out to the jazz territory where they showcase a classy sass – you can feel this in the slow-burning tracks “Philly Belly Cheesy” and “Unkind,” and the perky tracks “Build It” and “Take It Back.” There are crooning and dreamy instances when Idiot Grins take you in the hazy point between jazz and blues. In “Televised,” Evan’s vocals and The Byrd Sisters’ oohing yield an introspective chemistry while the jazzy rhythm and gliding chords take you to a buoyant ambience.
Idiot Grins do not only stay within the R&B/soul/jazz zone, they also toy with elements of pop, rock, and even country with their sound. In “Take It Back,” they bring melodic hues of pop to their soulful canvas where you get immediately hooked to the waltzy pulse. The following, “Dream,” is built on throbbing strings and sax where Idiot Grins juggle between pain and persistence. “Love hurts but it commands me” chants Evan.
During most of the record, no matter what genres Idiot Grins experiment with, they always seem to have a foot in the R&B or soul soundscapes. But in “Breathe,” they go all the way out of their melodic comfort zone and land on the country rock territory. “Breathe.” Built on strumming strings and expansive choruses, the track feels like a breather (no pun intended) from the record. It’s an unexpected twist, but a welcoming one that showcases the band’s ability to hopscotch from one genre to another seamlessly.
The most intimate track of the record is “Mama’s Tears” – a blend of R&B and folk pop. “I wonder, I wonder / What makes me the guy / That put those tears, those tears / In mama’s eyes.” Using minimalistic background, “Mama’s Tears” lets the lyrics be the main emotional triggers of the song. The intimacy and vulnerability of the song makes it the strongest moment of the record that really hits home.
The exiting track “Big Starry Night” is a cheery one that also exudes small air of moodiness. As the final track, it wraps up the record by leaving you with a celebratory aftertaste. Preserving the classical essence of R&B/soul/jazz music, Idiot Grins navigates us from trivial to intimate bits of life in their new record.