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‘How Have You Been?‘ by Giant Rooks - Album Review

How many times have you been asked the question, ‘How have you been?‘ Probably quite a bit. But how many times have you answered it completely honestly? In fact, have you ever answered it completely honestly? 


This concept is the foundation of Giant Rooks’ second album, promptly named ‘How Have You Been?’ The Berlin-based five-piece — cousins Fred Rabe and Finn Schwieters, along with their childhood friends Luca Göttner, Finn Thomas, and Jonathan Wischniowski — embarks on a fourteen-track journey to navigating that question we have become so used to hearing and asking every day, without ever getting or giving an honest response. ‘How Have You Been?’ has, dare I say, something for everyone, from Beatles-esque, upbeat tracks about tumultuous experiences of love and loss to indie soft rock, percussion-heavy ballads about struggling with mental health. 


‘How Have You Been?’ kicks off with four upbeat tracks that capture the more idealistic aspects and images of relationships, both from a first-person perspective and from outside. 


After an upbeat start with the guitar solo-laden ‘For You,’ the Beatles-inspired, synthy ‘Pink Skies,’ the summery indie pop ‘Somebody Like You,’ and the funky bass and percussion-heavy ‘Under Your Wings,’ the album slows down a little bit both lyrically and sonically with two emotionally heavier and melodically slower-paced tracks.


The R&B evocative and strings-supported ‘Cold Wars’ tackles the emotional trauma and baggage that comes with growing up in a broken home. The Harry Styles-like ballad ‘Nobody Likes Hospitals’ is a vulnerable look into witnessing a loved one spiral into depression and struggling with feeling utterly helpless. The raw emotion of the latter is more than tangible, as it was written when guitarist Finn Schwieters was hospitalized for a period due to depression. Lead singer Fred Rabe’s voice audibly shakes in the bridge, singing, ‘Let me tell you a secret, we can find a way together till the end of all days.’ 


While these two tracks should slow down or contradict the tone set by the first four songs, they don’t feel out of place at all, with ‘Cold Wars’ acting as a melodic interlude between the upbeat, more pop-influenced songs and the slower-paced, echoey ‘Nobody Likes Hospitals.’ Somehow, the two emotionally heavy tracks still evoke a feeling of hopefulness, not necessarily through words, but through the almost cinematic strings in the background of both songs, evocative of the ending scene of a movie where the hero rides off into the sunset.


With what may be one of the most lyrically rich songs on the album, ‘Fight Club’ re-positions the tone back to where the album started. With a beat slightly reminiscent of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Pastime Paradise,’ the track captures the exhausting, never-ending, somewhat brutal cycle of life and being unable to work through mental struggles and express emotions in a subtle, yet compelling critique of toxic masculinity. Rabe sings, Floating face-up, keep my eyes shut; When I wake up, adrenaline’s kicking in; Floating face-up, make this pain stop; I’m tryna scream, but nobody’s listening. Towards the end of the song, the entire band stops and allows a beat of complete silence before starting up again, forcing listeners to be taken aback by the abrupt end and quick continuing of the musical journey, symbolizing the stop-and-go, almost jarring continuity of life. ‘Fight Club’ is the musical standout of the album purely because it evokes the emotion the singer is feeling through the music, as opposed to through the words.


Probably the most sonically unique tracks on the album, ‘Flashlights’ and ‘Brave New World’ deviate from the love and mental health themes. Darker and extremely percussion-heavy, ‘Flashlights’ is more of a self-reflective song, delving inside the cage-like mind of a perfectionist, with lyrics such as My eyes point inside just like flashlights, searching every corner of my mind. This track is also notable because it shows off Rabe’s powerhouse vocals; his deep, slightly gritty voice and hugely emotional and powerful style of singing has evolved and improved greatly since the band’s debut album, and this song in particular allows him to show off his vocal range, curated perfectly to emphasize his skills. For most of the track, Rabe utilizes his deeper vocal register, almost crooning the words, but he ups the octave in the last chorus and masterfully navigates the musical crux of the song, more than completely comfortable within his higher chest voice. He sings with such powerful emotion, raspy grit, and vocal dexterity and control that it’s slightly reminiscent of a main character’s crucial, dark turning point number in a Broadway musical. And when Rabe goes big, so does the band. The climax of ‘Flashlights,’ the end of the bridge and the entirety of the last chorus, has never failed to give me full-body shivers.


‘Brave New World’ broadly criticizes social and political systems, with Rabe singing, And all I really know, it’s a passion; The system needs to burn down to ashes; Set fire to the fuel like some madman; A daily horror show, go watch yourself. The chorus continues, I just wanna let you know a new world’s waitin’ down the road, so just sit back, enjoy the ride; We’re at the borderline of a brand-new time, staying consistent with the album’s underlying theme of hope. The climax of ‘Brave New World,’ and arguably the best musical interlude of the album, is right before the bridge, in an almost chaotic but somehow also perfectly curated percussion solo by drummer Finn Thomas, backed by electronic effects and echoey background vocals. Inspired heavily by German krautrock music of the 1960s and 1970s, the solo simultaneously captures the chaos of life and the quiet order within the chaos, evoking a very specific feeling and mental image of seeing a single beam of sunlight in the midst of a raging thunderstorm. 


‘Bedroom Exile’ and ‘Morning Blue’ are two more indie pop-influenced and lighthearted tracks. Amid songs centered around mental health, ‘Bedroom Exile’ offers a dreamy, guitar riff-reliant, relatable alternative of ignoring all your problems and rediscovering yourself by going down into your ‘Bedroom Exile.’ A track that is extremely evocative of Coldplay, ‘Morning Blue’ is more similar to the first four tracks in terms of lyricism; the song captures the simultaneously exciting and terrifying nature of loving someone or of that love ending, with Rabe expressing desires to ”...get away in the morning blue, and the something or someone he can’t get over still being ”...too far away. One thing that makes ‘Morning Blue’ stand out musically is the distinct choice to support the first half of the chorus with exclusively acoustic guitar, with the drums coming in halfway through, and the rest of the band joining after the last line. This choice ensures that the listeners’ focus is solely on Rabe as he sings, I’ll be on my way to you; I wanna feel like I’m supposed to.


The indie soft rock-evocative tracks ‘Fake Happiness’ and ‘Love Is A Selfish Thing’ deal with two more complex concepts. Once again about witnessing a loved one struggling with mental health, ‘Fake Happiness’ is a pleading anthem begging the listener to see what a beautiful life they lead, accompanied by a subtly funky bass line and strummy guitar.


‘Love Is A Selfish Thing’ is shockingly self-aware, and self-critical, written by someone who is deeply hurt but also still cares. The track adeptly captures the conflicting emotions that the end of a relationship entails; Rabe sings, If I could, I would turn back the time back to the good old days; Repeating every mistake, and also,  I feel way better now I’m not with you.’ When he sings that love is a selfish thing, as the listener, we don’t know whether the implication is if he loved his partner for selfish reasons, or if his love was used and taken advantage of.


The ending of ‘Love Is A Selfish Thing’ transitions seamlessly into the last track, ‘How Have You Been?’ The titular track of the album serves as an outro, as opposed to an entire song with the typical verses-and-chorus structure. The only words of the song are, I won’t ever let you go; ’Cause you’re mine, you’ll be mine till the end of time, repeated continuously and softly. Aided with plucky, slow guitar, simple piano, and soft and echoey background vocals, the song evokes a dreamy, hazy, blurry feeling. At the end of the track, the percussion picks up in speed and volume, the electric guitar becomes more evocative of that in a classic rock song, and various electronic effects come into play, similar to the climax of ‘Brave New World.’ It’s almost like the singer’s daze has been interrupted by the realness, chaos, and struggles of the real world; it starts to bleed back in at the end of the song and slows down to close out the album.


It’s really hard to put Giant Rooks into a musical box, and that’s exactly how the band wants to keep it. ‘How Have You Been?’ incorporates lots of different styles of music, takes inspiration from a variety of different artists, and allows the seasoned, but still young, band to experiment with their sound and style. While I still prefer the quirky sound and poetic lyricism of the band’s debut album, ‘How Have You Been?’ is a truly engaging, thought-provoking, and experimental sophomore album, full of adept imagery, unique musical elements, and fun indie pop tracks that will make you want to scream-sing in your car with the windows rolled down.

 


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Love this album so much! Amazing review! It captures the music perfectly! 💖

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