Pareidolia: ‘The perception of apparently significant patterns or recognisable images, especially faces, in random or accidental arrangements of shapes and lines.’
It’s been nearly two years to the day since Mutes released their debut album, the nine track No Desire that was self-described as ‘urgent noise-fests, slow-burning drone sequences and seductive siren songs with assured ease.’ Honestly, I love a Mutes press release. But packed with angry jam, dark imaginings and the occasional pop-rock sacrifice to the Gods of radio friendly playlists, whatever words you throw around it was a pretty impressive debut.
But that was then, now is sometime later, and the sophomore proffering from James Brown & Co is an altogether different affair. Pareidolia is released through Birmingham based FOMA, as with No Desire, and will be available in the big wide world and web from Friday 21st June onwards. And for those too busy to read on, here’s a single word review: corker. But for those of you who can spare a few more syllables…
Pareidolia opens with the expected fuzz and distortion that must be permanently squatting in the back of James Brown’s head – sweeping in with just over a minute of echoed guitar tuning and white noise gone rogue. No surprises. Then the curiously chronological ‘Swallowing Light’ stamps Mutes across the front of this new LP, mirroring all we’ve grown to love, loathe or lament about this one-man-band split into three. Still no surprises. But no complaints either.
Then it changes. Everything shifts. Soft strumming and softer vocals cascade across the record, as the gentle melody of ‘Guarded Young’ moves us into an arena of almost indie pop – until the Swervedriver effect takes over at about 2mins 32secs. And despite the deluge of spangly guitar music in the Midlands, this Steve Lamaq championed single still feels fresh. Let the surprises begin.
The rest of the album jumps from one wonderful edge of this dichotomy to the other, combining Brown’s perfect homage to the ‘Stala’ side of those battered butternut sqaushers with what could, would, and perhaps should be described as even tender acoustic-electro.
Tracks such as ‘What It Takes’ and ‘Systematic Bliss’ bring out an almost vulnerability to this LP, whilst the unashamed freneticism and rabbit punch percussion of tracks such as ‘False Promise of Protection’ and ‘Men of Violence’ break this eleven track experience into an opposing battle of wills.
The production is superb, throughout, which the press release tells us is the silver lining when ‘principal songwriter James used the lack of any real support network as an opportunity to go it alone.’ Someone give that man a hug. Or a whiskey. But with a Mogwai-like intensity and sensitivity embellishing an album that is already melody heavy, whatever drove whoever to this point of wherever is no bad thing. For us, at least.
A few pockets of mad glory stand proud, with the dark dream instrumentals of ‘A Coloured Loss’ and ‘A Mercenary Change’ woven into a track listing with moments that would make George Martin blush. And as for the closing track, the curiously titled ‘Form/Colour’… well, I’ll leave that to you and your audio God. But lay me down on my flag and let the fields wash with blood, the king is dead. LONG LIVE THE KING.
However, as with many great works the strength of Pareidolia could also be its downfall. Accessibility. James Brown has long been a voice of dissent amidst the crowded cacophony of the Midlands’ music scene, challenging – verbally and musically, rightly or wrongly – the carbon copy creations that he often claims grab all the attention. From the crowds, from the venues, and from us, your humble music media. And he’s right, to a point.
But even if he’s not (everything by nature is subjective) it’s an important counterpoint to have in the conversation. And Pareidolia is dangerously close to making him popular with the pack, as the wolves of Radio 6 are already howling out around him.
But that’s me, perhaps I think too much. Perhaps I should just put my earphones back in, skip to track eleven and walk home enjoying the sunset. And as I stumble into the world’s most subtle framing technique, perhaps it’s just a beautiful body of work and I’m making something out of nothing. Regardless, Pareidolia is an exceptional album.
Mutes release Pareidolia, on Friday 21st June – out via FOMA. For more on Mutes, including links to online purchase, visit www.mutesuk.bandcamp.com
For more from FOMA, including links to all Mutes material on the label, visit www.wearefoma.bandcamp.com
Mutes are also celebrating the release of Pareidolia with special gig at The Sunflower Lounge on Saturday 22nd June – support comes from Magik Mountain, Exhailers, and Outlander. For direct gig info, including venue details and online ticket sales, visit www.thesunflowerlounge.com/event/mutes-magick-mountain-outlander-exhailers
For more on The Sunflower Lounge, including full event listings and links to online ticket sales, visit www.thesunflowerlounge.com
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