‘Heads’ is the second release by Dublin based musician/producer Ronan Carroll under the moniker Grouse. It represents the fruits of a seven-year wait since his instrumental led chill-out début ‘We Want to be loved’. This offering follows that path and is predominantly made up of original compositions with samples taking a back seat and vocals being nearly non-existent. Carroll has created an ambient trip-hop vibe which at times feels foreboding and almost holds cinematic qualities to it.
Album opener Interval is dominated by a deep rattling guitar riff and is backed by sloppy beats that create the type of obscure ambience one would expect from an early Portishead record. This ominous mood filters through the majority of ‘Heads’ nine tracks creating a movie soundtrack feel. One of the exceptions to this however is Telegraph which holds a tranquil feel with gentle steel drum type beats that certainly wouldn’t feel out-of-place with a cocktail or two. Along with album closer Finally it creates a more relaxed side to ‘Heads’ which breaks up the dark ambience that generally pervades the record.
The blend of electronic beats and acoustic instruments is perhaps the strongest aspect to ‘Heads,’ it’s represented well in 100 Cuts which blends synth and violin wonderfully to create a smooth yet menacing texture. The finest example of this however, is to be found in Casanova which is undoubtedly the finest piece of work on ‘Heads’. The track’s layering is exquisite and has a melancholy intensity to it that is truly striking.
That said Carroll hasn’t quite created a consistent feel here with some tracks eclipsing others. Vocals would definitely have added to a few of the tracks and is a step that should have been taken. There is ample material to praise however, with the darker mood of the album feeling powerful and the violin and deep beats creating real emotion. A delightfully quirky album that shows Carroll has plenty to offer the down-tempo dub world, let’s just hope it isn’t another seven years before he does it.