25 December 2010

Mutineers: "Friends, Lovers, Rivals"

I was minding my own business sitting in a café in the New York City the other day, laptop out, writing, bent on getting everything written that had to be written by the close of the year; I was listening to some music when a total stranger came over to me and asked, “Are you really listening to Mutineers?” in his thick, I would say Scouse, accent. He joined me at my table, stereotypically I drinking coffee and he tea. We spoke about the Mancunian band and agreed that their debut album, “Friends, Lovers, Rivals” (29 October 2010), was one of the most interesting releases of the year. We agreed that their impressive resume to date (which includes opening for the likes of veteran Bernard Sumner’s [of Joy Division and New Order fame] Bad Lieutenant and The View). But their claim to fame is not having a singular kind of musical reference, but rather their ability to have learnt from 70s, 80s, and 90s, while avoiding all the clichés of the moment.

The vocal stand out in much the same way that Brett Anderson’s, of Suede, does. Nicholas James Mallins has one of the most distinct voices in music, singing with visceral power, his vocal arrangements work with and complement the musical arrangements. And to continue the Suede comparison, the guitar arrangements are as intricate, crisp, and beautiful as Bernard Butler’s. And though some of us (like myself) would be jumping for joy for a Suede-esque band, there is way too much in the mix for Mutineers to be considered so. The use of ambient, whiffling keyboard will remind you of The Cure and fellow post-punks / new wavers of mid-80s (think “In Between Days” and “Just Like Heaven”). The maturity and introspection will make you think of Echo and the Bunnymen and The Lotus Eaters (think “Crystal Clear”). But all these distinct elements are laid over their own brand of pop sensibility that is fresh, relevant, and urgent in the context of today.

The opening track, “Infidelity” (considering the name of the album, brilliant opening track!), starts with a steady beat and keyboard, making you itch for house music, but instead you get a lusciously, ambient soulful song, where guitars and keys compete in the soundscape for dominance. This flows nicely into “Shadow Kisses.” Keeping the same format of the opening track, except poppier. Both of these songs are big in sound, big in feel. Though everything on the album breathes humility, there is a sense that these guys are musically ready for big venues. The closing track confirms this: “Hyde Road.” Typical of bands like The Cure, the opening and closing track of an album are the perfect opening and closing songs for a set – and you can hear the big ending in this song.

“One Last Chance” is one of my two favorite tracks – this song swirls in and oozes perfect pop sensibility without betraying its intricacies and visceral power. It is that kind of pop song that leaves a greater impression than just ripples in water; the song is endearingly haunting. And though I normally scoff at people asking for “one last chance,” the conviction of Mutineers comes right through; they sell the song, make it believable and sincere, making you wish they got that last chance. The other track I am addicted to is “The Auctioneer.” “Don’t walk away… keep on running,” Mallins croons in the chorus, and the music creates that sense of anxiousness that the lyrics are inspiring. And when music and lyrics work so well, so precisely, in tandem, it elevates the song from good to great. And though they reproduce this several times on the album, it is most apparent in “The Auctioneer.”

And for all my fellow post-punk obsessed friends, check out “Stick Together.” This is post-punk for a new generation that does not rehash the exact sound of the past, but applies the aesthetical mindset to a new generation. Ian Curtis and Billy McKenzie are probably smiling down on these guys with this track. And that is the highest compliment I could give.

So why Mutineers? One, one should always support nascent bands, especially one as talented as Mutineers. Two, “Friends, Lovers, Rivals” (which could be the name of a chapter in anyone’s biography!) is an adventure through a luscious soundscape that is infectious and vividly striking, with intricate arrangements that are heartfelt. Three, this is definitely the kind of band and album that leaves you pondering, “What’s the next release going to be like?” And that is sorrowfully missing in today’s fly-by-night acts and releases – who cares what comes next? “Just give me now” seems to be the attitude, but Mutineers has that craftsmanship that leaves you thinking, “What else is up their sleeves?” They have the distinctive sound, the songwriting chops, and the visceral power that bands strive for; I have a feeling that as time goes on, and they congeal and mature as a group, we can expect some more interesting things.

Track Listing
1. Infidelity
2. Shadow Kisses
3. One Last Chance
4. You Use To Be Ok
5. The Landlords Daughter
6. My Words Desert You
7. Apologies
8. The Auctioneers
9. Stick Together
10. Alone In Our Ideas
11. Hyde Road

Keep up with Mutineers at MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.

Here is a stream of Mutineers song “Shadow Kisses” and a live performance of “Hyde Road” (while supporting Bad Lieutenant), both from their YouTube Channel: armstrongthomas.

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