Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Mittens on Strings excels at psychedelic indie

December 21, 2009

The eighties killed psychedelic music. The electronic sounds, materialistic excess, and posturing of the lost era of good music put the screws to trippy sounds. There hasn’t been a real resurgence of the signature sound of the sixties and seventies since. There have been scattered bands here and there, but the closest thing to a real resurgence was shoegazer, which was couched in so much elitism and depression that it really doesn’t even count, as it completely misses the easy-going waves of psychedelic tunes.

Mittens on Strings originally confused me, because they’re the sound of modern psychedelic music. The word that kept coming back to mind was “woozy.” The music, when played at appropriate volumes, puts whatever room/car/headphones is playing Let’s Go to Baba’s into a drowsy, hazy state. This isn’t because the music is boring; it’s because songs like “Lou Reed Says” are set up to make you slowly bob your head back and forth. From the swaying tempo to the drooping vocal lines and swooping violin duet, the song just ambles along. That’s not to say it doesn’t get exciting. The song builds to an impressive climax with distorted guitar, huge bass work, and lots of cymbals. It’s just that Mittens on Strings has nailed how to make psychedelic music that you can actual enjoy in the modern realm.

And they’ve done an impressive job of making the whole album listenable as well. The Fleet Foxes-esque indie/folk of “La Middle Ages” is distinct from the bass intro of the appropriately named “Lumbering Giant.” The mournful background vocals of “Flaming Pig” distinguish it from the plucked string section of “A Mountain of Light.” Even the few uptempo tracks are their own entities: the whoa-oh’s in standout “Big Brother” aren’t anything like the plaintive chorus of “Big Black Car,” which is entirely separate from the island sounds (!) of “Vacation.”

But even with all this individuality, each of these tracks retain the Mittens on Strings stamp: low vocals with a morose streak, prominent use of dueling violins, lots of bass work, and dreamily distorted guitars (whether they be chords, distortion walls, or single-note melodies). In short, Mittens on Strings figured out how to write good songs that sound enough like each other to not be jarring next to each other, but different enough that you want to keep listening to each of them over and over.

The only problem with Let’s Go to Baba’s is that since it resurrects a style so often forgotten, the sound will come off as foreign and uncomfortable to some. “A Mountain of Light” is not something that is often heard, and it may be difficult to connect with at first blush. But those who are interested in uniquely creative music or psychedelic music should be very pleased to discover the surprising songwriting prowess of Mittens on Strings.

Stephen Carradini and Lisa Whealy write reviews of instrumental, folk, and singer/songwriter music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.

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