Friday, January 16, 2015

A short essay about Mystery Date's New Noir.

Johnny, Grady and Steve. Photo by Katie Riemer
First, the news. Mystery Date have a new album. It's called New Noir and it officially comes out on Tuesday, January 20. It's available on LP, CD, and all the downloadable doo-dads you can shake a log-in/password combination at. It's a really great, ambitiously unified album. Here's what it sounds like:

Secondly, I'll try to explain my love for Mystery Date, via a long story.

Steve, their bassist, was the singer in my junior high band for a few practices. He was also the singer in Trevor's (my constant musical companion and Piñata Records colleague) first, but different band. In the nearly twenty years hence, he's consistently been in interesting projects, all different variations on "punk rock". When we got re-acquainted as adults, he was playing guitar in the pulverising trio The Please Don't Hurt Me with two guys named Tony. He also co-fronted post-punkers The Future (their best song was "Go Down On You", sung by Steve), and played in slop-rock Goddamn. VAG followed that, a guitar/ drums duo with his girlfriend Katie, along with several other projects that I'm forgetting or not aware of. Sadly, I can't find any videos of any of these bands, but their intensity was always marvelous and matched by a refreshing lack of scene-climbing ambition (an important thread that has carried into Mystery Date).

After Southside Desire's first show in March of 2012, Steve introduced me to his dapper new bandmate Johnny. They slipped me a CD-R of Mystery Date's first recordings (3 of which would eventually later be released as the You and Your Sister 7" on Piñata Records).  When I got home that night, I put my jacket in the closet and didn't wear it again for about 2 years. I forgot about the CD and never listened to it.

In November 2012, Trevor and I went to Memory Lanes Bowling Alley to see our friends Narco States (who would soon have a 7" released with Piñata Records). They were playing after Mystery Date. We were excited to see Steve's newish band, along with our new label-mates. Throughout Mystery Date's set, it was clear that this gig was not a high priority. Remember that lack of ambition I mentioned earlier? They played for about 20 minutes, and in some cases the three members barely seemed to be playing the same song. Then at the end of their set, came the now familiar chik-chik-chik-chik-"Five (five-five-five...), Four (four-four-four...), Three (three-three-three...), Two, One..." My jaw dropped as they careened through the best punk song I'd heard in ages. "Lightspeed Romance" made me a Mystery Date fan. I bought a home-dubbed cassette of their nine songs recorded at Blackberry Way (dubbed onto Learn German cassettes, and featuring a snippet of Deutsch before opener "You and Your Sister") and listened to it constantly for a few months in my car.

The music on the tape brought me back to early adolescence, when I was first discovering bands that were gateways into deeper, weirder stuff. They 'll hate me for this comparison, but that Mystery Date tape made me feel the same way that I did the first time I heard Dookie and the Blue Album almost twenty years earlier. The songs were that catchy, the hooks grabbed as hard, and the lyrics had the same combination of relatability and cheek. And they weren't just dumb simple songs. "Radio Silence" has the weirdest staccato chorus I've heard in a pop song. "The One That You Really Want" has an odd shuffling, stumbling verse that coalesesces into a pounding chorus, complete with the crowd-manipulating pause before the comeback. And the songs were sincere. There was no sneering, no sarcasm. Johnny's lyrics always had a narrator who really meant what he was singing, without the usual punk rock distance (another link to Weezer and Green Day. Sorry, guys). The band I heard on that tape was focused, and had a definite ambition for writing incredible songs, and capturing them on tape. Once that was done, it seemed, performances were just parties.

We eventually worked it out to release their seven inch, and being associated with that record is one of Piñata's proudest achievements. It was compared favorably to lots of really good bands, including The Replacements, First Alert, The Jam, Buzzcocks and Nick Lowe. Almost immediately after releasing that record, Johnny sent me rough mixes of their new LP recorded by Matt Castore, who had done their recent and brilliant "Dreaming in Black and White"/"Endless Nights" single on Three Dimensional Records. I'd already fallen in love with the song "Wouldn't You Like to Know" from their live shows (which when they're good, are great), and that song's droning pulse was very different from their earlier material, while retaining that unique sincerity. The rest of the songs came together as a darker, more paranoid-feeling album. "Cosmos" and "Foreign Affairs" seem to be actual spy narratives written as anthems. "Xerox Lovers" is a lament about loving someone too similar to yourself. "Wouldn't You Like to Know" is wistful and features the brilliantly sad line, "It's not getting nearer/ The man in the mirror/ The girl on the other side of your dress." Then there's doo-wopper "This Can Only End in Tears", which... well. At first listen, the album seemed like a step back from the pop shine of their earlier work. I liked it, and I liked the band's musical evolution while holding onto their clattering roots, but it wasn't until subsequent listens that it really dug in.

New Noir is a unified thematic collection of songs, and the Cold War-like paranoia and espionage in the songs is a metaphor for the uncertainty in which we all live. Love, the economy, career choices, national security. Nothing is static, and we should all be prepared for the possibility that the world as we see it may not be the world that's actually there, or at least the same world that anyone else sees. The last two songs on the album tie this together beautifully. "You Can't See it Yet" features the most strident and charging melody, and opens the scene with a description of one person's perspective, followed by the chorus "New ideal, you can't see it.. yet." The final song, after another bass intro, asks, "Am I here at all? The world comes crashing around us, baby. The world comes crashing around us." Brilliant. The narrator's second person throughout the album keeps it from becoming the work of another sad-sack isolated futurist, but makes the listener his accomplice. Absolutely beautiful work, and anything but a step back. New Noir is a bold and questioning look into the future, and again, we are absolutely thrilled to have our logo on the back, and proud of the fact that we used to be in a band with one of these guys.