At first blush, En Garde, is a wonderfully lush, generally quiet, interesting, and deftly executed indie-folk record.
That’s all true. Stay there if you like, dear listener. Or, take Ethan Gruska up on the invitations he makes throughout the album to go deeper and peel back the layers of the disarmingly inventive and complex crafting he did on this gorgeous set of songs.
Gruska is an indie and emerging artist with serious A-list musical genealogy, experience, and cred. The grandson of John Williams (yes, that John Williams) and producer for records by Fiona Apple and Phoebe Bridgers. Gruska has been around musicians and the studio his entire life. Perhaps not surprisingly with that history, then, the production on En Garde (Gruska’s second full-length solo album) is exquisite and there is an incredible range of ideas neatly and artfully compressed into 36 minutes of music.
Take the first track, Maybe I’ll Go Nowhere, a pretty little song that can be heard as just that — or mined more fully for all of the short sonic flourishes, warped background synth lines, and bursts of dissonant strings Gruska layers in.
There are straight-ahead-sounding, single-worthy songs like On the Outside and Enough for Now. Set aside woozy, jazz explorations on Event Horizon, Nervous System, and Haiku4U (the latter featuring the always-outstanding Lianne La Havas). And, there are intensely intimate moments set amidst the stylistic ambition, like one of my personal favorites, Dialing Drunk.
I’ve rarely listened to a record that pings around so much, but so seamlessly; keeping me on my toes, while also lulling me into a reverie.
Lean in and see for yourself. En Garde was released last Friday, January 24 on all platforms.