Douglas Martin’s Dirty Shoes: The First Splash of Grace Vonderkühn

Vonderkühn sings like a young Kim Deal or Ty Segall with a higher register
By    March 17, 2015


Douglas Martin was recently cast as the Bachelor

The Grace Vonderkühn you hear on her self-titled, self-recorded EP sounds initially like a hybrid of Ty Segall and the Breeders. I know comparisons are lazy and blah blah blah, but it really is the first thing that grabs you when you listen to it. Pay attention to how she sings like a young Kim Deal on “Saints With Death Wishes” and Segall with a higher register on “Radio Silence,” or how the divine hammer comes down on the former and pummeling intensity of the latter. The Delaware punk journeywoman shares the same qualities with those acts as they do with each other; slightly left-of-center, infectiously melodic, the perfect kind of sonically rich (as much so as lo-fi gets) garage-rock for rapidly encroaching spring weather.

So what? There are a great deal of bands who can effectively nail the aural aesthetic of other bands, and a terrifying number of them, especially in the Year of Our Lord 2015, are still plenty boring. What makes Vonderkühn different from the scores and scores of bands who try to ape Melted five years after the fact or Last Splash well past two decades later? For starters, Vonderkühn has a natural charisma which displays itself in surplus when she sings. You can practically hear her whipping her hair back on the aformentioned “Saints” and opener “Nowhere to Go”. There also exists an attention to songwriting structure and instrumental craft; in the spirit of Segall’s earlier records, all of the instruments were recorded by Vonderkühn herself, and she manages to evoke a blissfully imperfect, live-to-tape quality that belies the EP’s slight recording personnel.

“God Bless Your Soul” sails by with a quality which sets her apart from the artists I’m trying to compare her to. It’s an acoustic track, which is not to say those aforementioned artists don’t have stunning acoustic tracks (Segall in particular, obviously), but on the EP’s lone song of its kind, Vonderkühn combines bouncy, Lilith Fair folk with far-off (and far out) guitar squealing, the latter seemingly swirling in the clouds behind her. The textural focus of her work is subtly layered throughout. Her dreamy, diaphanous voice is the focal point of “Kaleidoscopes” even though it’s made to sound like it’s coming from a distance, and the forward lurch and increasing instrumental power shows that she pays attention to her songs in a way that extends far beyond “what band do I want to sound like” gesturing.

Though she’s fronted bands in her native Delaware for quite a while, you still get the feeling Vonderkühn is still finding her voice while basking in those of artists few of us are tired of hearing. Thankfully, there’s enough of her own personality involved for this to not qualify as mimicry, and enough attention to craft for there to feel like she’s getting somewhere singularity-wise. This being her debut solo EP, there is a huge upside to her burgeoning spark of creativity while still puncturing speakers as an infinitely catchy opening salvo. Looks like we have a new name to add to the list of artists in the Douglas Martin Music genre, and I have a feeling you’ll be reading this name incessantly in my columns for a long time to come.

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