Review by David D. Robbins Jr. | Their Bated Breath
Album: Mmpsuf “Retina” (2012)
Oftentimes sadness walks hand-in-hand with beauty. It’s records like Mmpsuf’s “Retina” that give pause to reflect on that notion. It’s a mini-masterpiece. Five concise but sprawling tracks. There are a number of musical touches that may be reminiscent of other bands or artists, but it’s clear “Retina” is a masterwork of the band’s own construction. The musical arrangements are elegantly astonishing. The songs are powerful, with the ability to convey a heightened sense of melancholy through artistry and sheer talent. The ethereal nature of the songs makes listening to this record feel like walking across sacred ground. And it’s all gilded with an honesty that bleeds out through the lyrics, the plush but dark ambiance, and the voice of vocalist Eglė Sirvydytė.
Strangely enough, I heard the last track first — a song called “The Rooms”, which is about as simple as any song on the album gets. It begins with acoustic guitar, and these starkly beautiful verses: “My room is full of trees / My room is full of guns and roses / It’s under 7,000 feet / It’s in the deep, deep ocean / And this is all I am / And nothing more, than this / It’s all about my fear of heights.” It’s a song that rolls like a quiet thunder. Sirvydytė’s lead vocals move from a whisper to a light high-pitch like the releasing of steam or the somber sigh of a barely blown trumpet. Sirvydytė has found a perfect partner in Aivaras Ruzgas.
Presumably, he’s a large part of the instrumental tapestry that gives all the songs on the record a severe sense of tension. The opener, “The Beauty”, has to be heard to be believed. A heavy drum accent mixes with an intermittent electronic scraping. Sirvydytė sings the lead track like a cross between Middle Eastern chant and that elemental feel of a Sinead O’Connor song circa “The Lion and the Cobra”. The effect is hypnotic: “Do you hear them? / Do you hear them? … / With the voices of trees and stones …” There are so many textures in this arrangement, that build into a unified perfection. It’s haunting and stunning at the same time. The duo let their songs breath too. There’s nothing forced here.
“The Sailors” is a little closer to a normalized song structure. The skittery beats in the song are the kind Thom Yorke is so fond of creating in his solo work and side projects. The beats and rhythms pick up the pace, underscored by the rise and fall of gorgeous vocal harmonies. The song that bears a word from the title, “God’s Retina”, opens with backing vocals like a church choir in acapella behind the voice of Sirvydytė, who conducts the ebbs and flows by singing across them. It’s impeccable, and soulful. “The Winds” uses brass horn, giving the song a mournful tincture. Feedback is added. A delicate pinging noise. All of it slowly blends into the song’s first verses, carrying a muscular sensuality and lurid atmosphere that would make Portishead proud. I have a feeling this record will be making my Best of 2012 list. You can follow the duo at facebook and soundcloud. You can download the record for free or order a hard copy at the official website.
Mmpsuf “The Beauty”