Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Dark. Funny. Shiver.

June 10, 2009

Mona Medusa is a relatively new band, and, unlike most new bands, they seem to have already come up with a unique, easily recognizable sound for their new album Shiver. This isn’t generic rock. It isn’t alt rock, at least in the generic sense of the term. It isn’t even really dark wave, which is the closest I could come up with that they match. It’s a combination of the three, a fun-but-disturbing mix of happy and sad vocals, laid down over guitar and drums, with the periodic violin or accordion part. Sounds interesting, right? That’s because it is.

The songs “What Is Will Be” and “Ousire” have an energetic feel to them – is that possible while making dark music? Apparently so, because Mona Medusa pulls it off cleanly. There’s a hint of a rebellion and angst in the lead vocals, though it’s contrasted against backup vocals that swing from creepy, wordless harmonizing to amusing bits that shake and quiver like the stereotypical ghost sound you might hear in an old horror movie. It’s worth nothing that for the most part background vocals are female, with male lead vocals. They sound pretty good together, though I think the backup vocals could be a bit stronger. “Ousire” ends well, with tension that builds, builds, builds, and finally resolves. Touches like that are what make an album.

Mona Medusa takes on a different tone mid-album with “Water and Women (reprise).” For starters, it’s quieter, and acoustic; the combination is actually a very nice sound, though quite the departure from the rest of the album. The previously-mentioned accordion comes into play on this track to great effect, adding some excellent flavor to the song. “Fire and Glass,” another change from their typical sound, is a short and sweet instrumental break. It’s a string intro with violin and acoustic guitar that’s gorgeous. It leads nicely into the next song, “Blood on Blood.”

Speaking of “Blood on Blood,” it was one of my favorites of the album, with a sweet, distorted guitar intro and a more triumphant, cathartic tone to it than the rest of the album. Mona Medusa displays some great instrumental versatility in their music, primarily thanks to member Andrea Lee – she provides the violin and accordion parts that round out their sound and help to distinguish their sound from that of other bands. The tone of song is summed up by the lyrics, “I want to rise / I want to rise through the fire.”

Shiver is a fine offering from a band that is just starting to hit their stride. Mona Medusa manages to cover a wide range of tone and emotion across the tracks without making anything that is distinctly not-them; you can listen to any of these and tell that it’s Mona Medusa that made it. They’ve made it further than many bands ever do – finding “their” sound. I’d like to see more and stronger interplay between the male and female vocals; they place nicely off each other when singing full-out. They still have room to develop and grow their sound, but Mona Medusa is off to a great start with Shiver.

Wife: Consensual

January 18, 2009

Wife, the latest effort by St. Louis dark-wave ensemble Chapters, is one of those albums you’ve just got to listen to straight through – its impact builds over the course of the album. These guys combine rhythmic, beating melodies with compelling lyrics. You can’t help but get caught up in it.

The album begins with “Side Effect,” a brooding, dark track that quickly sets the tone for the rest of the album. The music is entrancing, but what really caught my attention were the lyrics. Frontman Vincent Marks opens with “Take it or leave it now/ Open your legs or not / Trust me, babe/ Ask your friends / I won’t wait on you.”

Marks was formerly a fiction writer, and it shows in his music. Slowly, phrase by phrase, each song reveals a story – something tragic. In “Critical End,” he relates – you guessed it – the end of a relationship, saying, “I only wish you knew/ How the time we had was pointless.” “Consensual” is about illicit relationships, and the betrayal, the guilt, and lies that go along with them. In contrast, “Climax and Exoneration” almost has a triumphant feeling, one of independence and moving on.

Whether you’re in it for the great dance music or for the emotional journey, Chapters is a solid band, and Wife is proof of that. The group has two distinct elements going on – the music and the lyrics. They act as a sort of yin and yang, at once reacting to each other and blending perfectly. If this album is any indication, Chapters is only going to get better. They tour regionally in Missouri and Illinois; try to catch them if you’re in the area.

Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.

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