MUSIC: Review: Mudbison, "A"

Written by Steve Pierce on . Posted in Music

For fans and devotees of the local music scene, the debut album of indie-eclectic band and Provo mainstays Mudbison has been a long time coming — and, thankfully, it’s finally here with staggering results.

Largely the brainchild of frontman and producer Spencer Russell, A is one of the most inspired and unique discs to drop from a Utah band in quite some time. While the Utah Valley scene has produced some great artists in recent years who’ve found widespread success, it seems fairly safe to say that we always know what they’re going to give us. Joshua James creates brilliantly soulful folk music that transports you to a different time. Neon Trees make you want to dance your face off while singing along at the top of your lungs to their synth-driven dance-rock jams. We love these excellent homegrown artists for what they do — but they are known entities. They just are who they are.

Mudbison is a whole different breed. When the band officially formed in early 2009, their early tunes were generally acoustic guitar-driven folk ditties penned by Russell and then sparsely augmented with keys, bass and drums. More than a year later, the sounds of A could not be more different. Now gleaming with a studio-quality sheen proffered by Russell’s burgeoning production genius, each song brings its own unique flavor while still fitting into a larger, cohesive, and distinctly “Mudbison” feel.

Some tracks, including the simple acoustic opener “The Mailman Song” and the tender piano ballad “Wait for Me,” wouldn’t have felt out of place in the band’s early catalog, while pulsing synths and sampled beats provide a glimpse into a completely different creative vision on album standouts like “Color T.V.” and “Mama Nix.” Similarly, old Russell standbys like “Little Indian” and the ever-popular “Suburbia” get electronica-tinged upgrades that retain the soul of the original recordings while taking the songs to new, more expansive heights. Indeed, to listen to A‘s “Suburbia” (included below) in comparison to the original version off Russell’s self-released 2009 solo disc is to glimpse the possibilities of a band truly reinventing themselves and their sound, while pushing the sonic limits of their creativity.

That’s not to say A is all fun and games. The somber yet expansive “Joy!” shows Russell confronting the untimely passing of his mother through song more directly and powerfully than ever before. By layering his delicate piano melody and guitar picking with profoundly affecting backing harmonies provided by Caitlin Duncan and field recordings of his mother discussing her difficult struggle with cancer, Russell simultaneously creates one of the most devastating and most uplifting pieces of music I’ve ever heard. I challenge any individual with a heart to closely listen to “Joy!” alone in a room and try not to cry your eyes out. (I’m almost certain it can’t be done.)

But, in short, that’s what A and, by extension, the new Mudbison is — a brilliant amalgamation of musical styles and thematic tones that create an even greater whole. Russell and Duncan’s voices blend together effortlessly in any scenario, whether it be an up-tempo dance number or a sparse acoustic ballad, giving the album a shape-shifting versatility that’s sure to please listeners of all kinds. If you like music and have yet to hop on the Mudbison train, now is as good a time as any to walk — no, run — toward the light and receive your tuneful reward.

Listen to: Mudbison, “Suburbia”

Hear more Mudbison and learn about the band at their MySpace page here.

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