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Album Review // GRAYSCALE ‘Umbra’

It’s not easy to keep your sound interesting while remaining true to your identity, but Grayscale have done just that with their third album Umbra.


Grayscale Umbra 2021

They say that ‘third time’s the charm’, and it’s a saying that has withstood the test of time and contains a kernel of truth for most efforts, including music making. For Philadelphia’s Grayscale, their third album Umbra stands testament to the accuracy of the statement as it sees them more connected with their vision than ever before. The band has refined their sound and elevated their songwriting to take you on the journey they started with Nella Vita, a journey across the full spectrum of emotions as we’re confronted by life.

Opening this new chapter jubilantly with Without You, exultant trumpets ring out through a bed of elated guitars and bouncy bass notes for a triumphant introduction. It’s a sound of elation and carefreeness, a sound that comes with the band’s developed confidence in their craft and boy, has it been a long time coming. Keeping you on a sonic high with following Dirty Bombs, it’s from here that the genius of Grayscale’s songwriting starts showing through on this album. As the glittering introduction lulls you into a false sense of joyous optimism, a more careful listening to the words of the track reveals that all is not as it seems as vocalist Collin Walsh grapples with a darker honesty about our unyielding need for external validation.

A whirlwind tour through the different stages of a relationship is presented in the following three tracks. From the kindling embers and trying to hide the less appealing sides of yourself in Bad Love, to being wrapped in the moment during Motown, and finally the gut-wrenching disintegration in Over Now, the brevity of time spent on the topic is no indication of the depth dived. Sonically keeping pace by traversing through funk and disco-inspired synths to forlorn vocals, Grayscale achieve in three tracks what many others spend a whole album on, without losing touch of the multi-faceted subtleties and all of the complicated emotions entangled within.

With a track name like Live Again, you may have high expectations for sounds of redemption and resurrected fervour – what you actually receive is all of that and more. As gospel-inspired choirs and swelling melodies bring you towards the epic climax of the album, it’s the start of a spine-tingling second half that moves from the external into the internal, and brings a sharpened focus on introspective lyricism and intimate musings. Carolina Skies is a marked departure from the pop punk roots of the band, as it loses the gritty edge of the rock drums and guitar riffs in favour of glistening electronics and kaleidoscopic synths. It’s a real tender moment on the album, with gentle vocals telling of unfulfilled daydreams and ardent wishes in such an earnest manner that you can’t help but feel your heart soften and open up.

King Of Everything leaves a bittersweet acidity on your tongue, as it touches on the pain and suffering that life can subject us to. There’s no shying away from the uglier shades of truth, and the brutal honesty stirs up a hurricane of emotions that makes for the greatest moment of catharsis on the album, soundtracked to haunting electronics and expulsive guitars. Finale Light brings one of the sparsest accompaniment on the album, and it wraps you in a dreamy haze of shimmering keyboards and dulcet tones for an ethereal drawdown.

Through the highs, the lows, and everything in between, Grayscale explore the nuances of love, mortality, and existence in all of its glory in Umbra. It’s light and dark, elating and mournful, and recognises the duality of our everyday experiences. Umbra sees the band rising like a phoenix from the ashes, with renewed ambition and having undergone developments to show Grayscale as the most distinct they have ever been.