Damon & Gray tap into paranoia, The Mantles radiate bittersweet sunshine
Tyler Damon & Darin Gray
In the graphic novel In the Shadow of No Towers, Art Spiegelman used—to illustrate the post-9/11 constant-paranoia mindset—the example of “waiting for the other shoe to drop.”
It’s where an apartment dweller takes off one shoe before going to bed and awakens the person living directly beneath by dropping it to the floor; knowing that eventually, the other shoe will also be dropped, the person lies awake with great uneasiness.
That is the precise mood that is captured on the album ...Oninbo by the improvising duo of percussionist Tyler Damon and electric bassist/percussionist Darin Gray. While a normal rock song might have cycles of mounting tension and release, on the largely abstract ...Oninbo the listener comes to the realization that there is no release, only tension. Once that expectation is lifted, the listener may realize that it’s all about embracing the fear that is being conveyed.
On “Creeping Oninbo,” Damon weaves his sonic web with constant scratches and pin-pricks with insistent brushed drums, rolls and cymbal sweeps, evoking a sense of impending doom; Gray’s unclassifiable bass tones have a spooky, supernatural quality to them.
Other tracks feature prominent percussion clangs, in disorienting layers; rather than simple Morse-code hits to the metal, there’s a sort of circular quality to the playing, suggesting cascades and whirlpools.
“Silent Water” offers more organization than the other tracks, with discrete notes tapped out in loose patterns on what sounds like a haunted Indonesian gamelan orchestra, and it’s also notable for its use of space and sense of anticipation to generate a different kind of tension.
The closing 11-minute “I Must Admit, It Has Destroyed Me” is a bundle of nerves, like a stroll through a scorched-earth landscape of valleys and peaks with an ambiguous conclusion; it’s not about happy endings or sad endings but the demanding present time.
All Odds End
The new album All Odds End from the California five-piece indie-pop outfit The Mantles sports a deceptively breezy attitude—when needed, it can deliver a substantial, meaty punch, both musically and lyrically.
Offhand, the group led by singer/guitarist Michael Olivares seems to owe a lot to Kiwi pop from the ’80s, and bassist Matt Bullimore happens to be a native of New Zealand.
In particular, it may appeal to fans of The Clean; Olivares’ voice has an uncanny similarity to that of The Clean’s front man David Kilgour, and at times Virginia Weatherby’s spirited drumming even resembles the motorik-via-Moe-Tucker drumming of The Clean’s drummer Hamish Kilgour, like on the opening track “Island.”
Lyrically, All Odds End has loose themes of comings and goings, geography and isolation, and despite the perky rock-pop jangle of many tracks, there are some unexpected biting moments. For example, in “Hate to See You Go,” the title is revealed to be a sarcastic remark after the listener hears lines like “Every time you’re given the chance to smile, you smile until it becomes malicious.”
“Time to Come Away” is ambiguous enough to suggest that a man who “couldn’t stop screaming” was institutionalized, with a musical sparkle that belies its pessimism and cynicism. “Police My Love” uses joyous and vibrant outbursts and a strum-happy style, enhanced with organ flourishes, masking the story of the desperate, love-starved protagonist told plainly.
If you were raised on issues of the zine Chickfactor, C86 British pop, Flying Nun Records and ’90s indie-pop, The Mantles’ bittersweet sunshine on All Odds End will likely appeal to your tastes.
It’s not music that is earthshaking or revelatory; however, its execution is engaging, and its lyrics are simple yet penetrating, with the whole package never being less than a pleasure.