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Mice On Stilts - 2013 - "An Ocean Held Me"

(33:39, Triple A Records)


1.  Syd's Socks 4:09
2.  Binocular Bath 5:21
3.  A Moss Ocean 5:37
4.  Vulnerable Vader 5:56
5.  Tuatara Lawn 12:36


Aaron Longville  saxophone, trumpet
Ben Morley  guitars; vocals 
Sam Hennessy  viola 
Rob Sander  drums 
Sam Nash  bass 
Nick Wright  pianos; vocals

Prolusion. The New-Zealand band MICE ON STILTS (MOS hereinafter), formed in 2011, explores a brand of music they describe themselves as cinematic doom folk. "An Ocean Held Me" is their debut album, released through the Kiwi label Triple A Records in 2013.

Analysis. As far as progressive rock goes, MOS joins the ranks of the myriad of bands that appear to draw inspiration for indie rock just as much as progressive rock when creating their material. Most likely, not a conscious approach on their part, but as far as context goes that is a detail that merits mentioning. In other words, there aren't too many references to vintage progressive rock at hand in this case, and as far as comparisons go the major ones are artists with their main activities from the 90s and onwards. Radiohead is a name I'll drop straight away. First and foremost due to the lead vocals, as lead singer Morley has a voice that sounds rather like Thom Yorke in places, with a similar nervous edge, but a voice with emotional warmth replacing the angst-filled delivery of the Radiohead frontman. Which for MOS results in many songs, carried quite nicely through a warm, emotionally-laden, but also nervous lead vocal, which adds a distinct atmosphere of tension to the compositions. That the band tends to explore delicate landscapes using careful guitar details, viola and either sax or trumpet to create frail landscapes makes the vocals impact that much more striking, and as this is a band that does have a tendency to develop their initial frail landscapes into more majestic, soaring heights the emotionally-laden vocals come just as much to their right there, adding emphasis to the dramatic and emotional tapestries woven by the instruments. That they are prone to occasional dark-toned, edgy sections featuring grittier guitar riffs and more intense bass and drums underscoring kind of adds to the aforementioned Radiohead references. That this band also throws in some Americana details here and some jazz-tinged details there documents a band with something of an innovative spirit more than anything else, and that they are fond of adding instrumental textures to just about all the songs here also places the band straight into a more contemporary context. That the latter aspect also adds an emphasis to the emotionally laden landscapes explored is, perhaps, something that goes without saying. The end result is a striking production. Not directly comparable to anything else out there really, and their brand of emotionally-laden progressive rock is really and truly something else in a very positive meaning of that phrase. Personally I'll pick A Moss Ocean as my personal favorite, one of the most careful, dark and mystical-sounding compositions on this production and a song that documents the inborn beauty one can uncover even in darker and more mournful atmospheres.

Conclusion. While MOS isn't a band directly comparable to any other band out there that I'm familiar with at this point, Radiohead is my chosen comparison due to the mood and overall atmosphere on this album. If one describes this band as a unit that replaces Radiohead's massive angst with melancholic and mournful tendencies, and flavors liberally with post rock aesthetics, then you should have a fairly good idea on the general scope of this production. In addition one might mention that the compositions are of a generally more laid back and tranquil nature, and that there's extensive room for the viola, for brittle trumpet details and careful saxophone textures. Still, even if rather different sounding, I still suspect that fans of Radiohead and similar bands will be the key audience for this band, especially those amongst them with a certain affection for post rock aesthetics.

OMB=Olav M Bjornsen: March 2, 2015
The Rating Room

Related Links:

Triple A Records
Mice On Stilts


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