On Growing

It’s hard to find a band with a sound quite like Growing. The group’s music is at once challenging, unique, and simple. Often grouped as drone/ambient music, a typical Growing track is a 10-minute plus instrumental wash, without much obvious variation. No melody. No beat. But, stay with me now —though the songs may lack variation, they’re not boring.

Growing is Kevin Doria on bass guitar and Joe Denardo on electric guitar, although you could hardly guess the instrumentation just by listening to most tracks. It’s more accurate to say that each musician plays a series of effects through pedals and amplifiers, rather than guitars. After experimenting for years, Doria and Denardo seem to have found the exact sounds they wanted to make, and they continue to break new ground.

Growing formed in 2001 in Olympia, Wash. as a three-piece group, releasing several cassettes and a video before its first LP, The Sky’s Run Into the Sea (2003). On The Sky’s Run, the new sounds weren’t there yet; the band seemed impatient, with a stadium rock guitar solo on almost every track. Following the LP, the third member left, allowing the band the creative flexibility that it needed.

Growing’s next album, The Soul of the Rainbow and the Harmony of Light, represents a distinct shift. On Soul, the band seems calmer — there is no rush to do something artificially interesting. Thus, Doria and Denardo are able to use more subtle variations as they move away from the guitar sounds to create a serene and enveloping effect. The good thing about this kind of ambient music is that it doesn’t have to be the focus of the listener. It’s just as good with the volume low, for somebody sitting on the porch reading, as it is when it’s filling the room completely.

Skip ahead to Color Wheel, the fourth LP. Color Wheel makes you forget that the world exists, allowing the mind to wander. Here, the duo has really figured out how to make the sounds they want, capable of completely overwhelming the listener without brute force. The album has a much more dynamic feel, while maintaining the patience of Soul. The opener is brilliant, starting out with a soaring overlay of delayed guitar sounding like a choir of horns, and a strong rumbling drone that trades focus with what can only be described as an incandescent glow — probably orange. Eventually the drone fades, and an explosion that’s not quite a tone comes in at unpredictable intervals, followed by a harsh rhythmic sound. The beauty isn’t gone though, as the “guitarist” overlays a more continuous stream of bright reflections and huge angelic flourishes at just the right times.

Following in Color Wheel’s tracks, this year’s Vision Swim is amazing as well.