Album Review: “While I Was Away” by Mike Grutka

GUILDERLAND – Released on February 4th, While I was Away, the most recent effort of artist Mike Grutka, unfurled itself throughout its duration as an indie-folk album that is over before you know it. Not only was this true from an album perspective, but it also held true on a song-by-song basis. In a sense, it’s this brevity Grutka employed that almost made the entire album seem like one cohesive tune. Though the record was fairly straightforward, there were some really genre-bending moments that can easily grab one’s ear during listening.

For example, the album opener, “Floating,” defied typical conventions. More often than not, openers are used to introduce listeners to the overarching theme of the album; what those listening can expect as the record continues. However, this author was greeted – and quite welcomingly so – to a piece that stood outside of the rest of the record’s “language.” Featuring a strong and rich tuba intro, followed by a full orchestra opening up, “Floating” was a piece that skillfully combined strings and horns. The tune was flush with various orchestration techniques, such as counterpoint, and using a motif and variations therein to create a compelling composition.

It’s during the second track, “The Light Will Shine,” where Grutka settled back down into more indie-rock aesthetics.  Fairly straightforward, the song consisted of a very bright intro section, which was later used as interludes between sections of the song. No time was taken in getting to the chorus. After the second chorus, the song’s instrumentation receded a bit, then returned full bore. Though the guitar seemed a bit louder during the latter half, all the instrumentation was introduced fairly quickly. “The Light Will Shine” might’ve been catchy but didn’t really seem to expand in energy – a consistent tune with a relatively small amount of build. There was a very well-established end to this tune.

Continuing along with the mainstay traditions of his genre, up next was “Gone.” That being said, the arrangement felt a bit more fleshed out on this track; It took until the chorus for the whole band to enter. The foundation of each track was good on this record, and the dreamy “Gone” was no exception. That being said, it didn’t have any particular moments that jumped out at me, either in a good or bad way.

When considering the four pieces of music following “Floating” as cohesive compositions within the same genre, the track “World Goes Round,” was easily my favorite. With acoustic guitar, piano, and vocals heard in the beginning, it made for a very folky and roots-rock-oriented song. An extremely tender song, it’s worth noting that Grutka’s mandolin was a nice addition to the instrumentation.

I really enjoyed the wistful way the instrumentation sounds in the closing track, “Do You Think.” It’s a contradictory feeling trapped between nostalgia, and longing, with just a dash of potential bitterness. Grutka got his point across in a way many of us can relate to in terms of loved ones. I also found how he cut the lyric of the song off during the last line to be very effective.

All-in-all, the album is what I’d call a “road record.” Painful alliteration aside – sometimes I can’t help myself – it feels like it should’ve been longer in terms of length. At times it seems like a song is going to explode with energy as the proverbial needle shifts to the next piece of music. All of that just mentioned, however, is the listener’s own preference in terms of lengths of records. Barring that listening tendency, I’d say this is a fine album that will easily find its way into the collection of fans favoring the genres of indie, folk, and roots-rock music. Give it a listen by following the link at the end of this article.

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