The Film Society is a solo project from Chicago-based musician Joe Grazulis. You’d never guess that one person could put all this together (with some help from drummer Kevin O’Donnell. Together they use modern methods to make the best Donovan record since The Hurdy Gurdy Man.
This five-song collection kicks off with “Shoot To Kill Arrow.” It begins with a dancing bass line and finger snaps before breaking out into “shooby doo wop”s that are used as effectively as here as when Nick Thorburn uses them on Mister Heavenly’s debut LP. Grazulis does a fantastic job of harmonizing with his own voice, creating a very full sound. You can tell that he’s not just going for a whimsical sound from yesteryear,but he’s trying to make a personal statement. Toward the end of the song comes this verse:
Flap your arms enough my dear boy you’ll take flight
Soft alarms remind me I should
Bite right through the muzzle
Before I desist and cease
‘Cause I want to be a puzzle
Not a single puzzle piece
“Pinstripe Navy Blue” is both melancholy and playful. A lot of the playfulness comes from Grazulis’ phrasing, which stops and starts in order for the lines to match up. I had to listen to this one a couple times to be sure I was hearing it correctly, because the last verse of the tune is sung as if it were the oompa-loompa’s warning us of some grave danger at Willy Wonka’s factory. At first I just laughed, but it actually sounds really good in the context of the song.
The first minute or so of “Sudden And Startling” bares too much resemblance to the first track to really set it apart. It’s the one song of the five that I can’t say I fully recommend, only because “Shoot To Kill Arrow” is a better song. If this had been a 4-song EP, and this one were left off, I think it would make for a stronger record.
“Astrological Tea” gets us back on track with an opening drum kick that acts as a wake up call to anyone who may have gotten lost in this hazy dreamland Grazulis has created for us. A sly bluesy guitar solo gets pulled into the mix, along with some great finger plucking rhythm guitar. I like the idea of such a calm song dealing with anxiety, and it’s executed very well.
The final song is “Stockholm Syndrome.” It sets a lofty goal of Rubber Soul-era Beatles, but doesn’t quite reach that mark. It’s a good song, but as the finale I think it needed to be bigger. Throw in some horns and I would have been completely satisfied. Various different forms of percussion are used throughout the song, but it comes in waves and then falls away again. There’s a bit of a latin beat going on, so maybe an accompanying trumpet would work. I don’t know, but it’s not quite there for me.
That doesn’t hinder my enjoyment of The Film Society, though.This is a well-crafted EP that certainly deserves to be heard and loved. I really like Grazulis’ voice and the genre he’s chosen to work in-they seem to suit each other just fine. If you’d like to hear it for yourself, you can stream it for free or “pay what you want” on Bandcamp. I’m really interested to see what a live show is like since he played everything but the drums. If you’re in Chicago, The Film Society will be at Township on February 24th, and at Uncommon Ground on Devon March 28th.