Idiot Grins are masters of looking to the past to channel the complexity of modern day life. With heavy doses of soul and funk, State of Health is an album of retro-rock that grooves right into your bones. With help from Oakland gospel stars The Byrd Sisters, Idiot Grins have everything they need to keep you on your toes.
There’s a plethora of genres here — songs that push the boundaries of one classification, and as a result, the album feels constantly fresh, always on the edge of becoming something else. There’s a constant affinity for the smoothness of soul and R&B, but tracks like “Frock” find something electronic and modern, while “Mama’s Tears” tilts at country with a twangy guitar and heavy keys. The album ends on a distinctly rock’n’roll high, with “Big Starry Night”’s kicky beat and a guitar solo that blends into a slow fade-out.
The diversity of sound pairs well with the lyrical prowess that Idiot Grins bring. There are stories in the songs: the album literally begins at the beginning of life. “Unkind” is a breakup song with a bite, while “Take it Back” feels like its sequel — an optimistic look at moving on after love ends. The lyrics also flow into poetry. On “Big Starry Night” we have the poignant thought: “I’m not going to watch you watch me drown”, and it’s inspiring in its own light.
But the magic ingredient throughout State of Health is The Byrd Sisters. Lauren Byrd, Lena Byrd-Miles and Lisa Byrd fill out “Get Busy Dying” with triumphant backing vocals, but also take a more central role on the funky and accelerating “That’s Some Funky Business”, which in all its complexity becomes an album highlight. Their presence on each song is a necessary addition — a glint of something hopeful in today’s anxious world.
Idiot Grins know their genre, but they also know how to keep it fresh. State of Health is the album that anyone who needs a bit more soul — and maybe a little more heart — should have at the ready.