John Mayer describes all of his songs in terms of colors. He’ll call one brown and another yellow-green, and to him it is the most natural thing in the world. This is because Mayer is a synesthete – his brain is wired differently from most people’s in such a way that sensations can cross. Sounds can have smells, or touches can be associated with different colors. It’s like a 24/7 acid trip. But the idea that sounds or music can be associated with certain colors can certainly be applicable to the rest of us, as well. While Weezer’s Blue Album may not feel especially blue, Joni Mitchell’s Blue probably does. The Beatles’ White Album has no connection between its eponymous color and the music within, but Metallica’s Black Album certainly does. Colors have moods, even if we don’t always see them so starkly.
Somehow, Ringo Deathstarr has named their latest album after the perfect color. Mauve isn’t a color that many people would name instantly – it’s not in your average starter Crayola pack – but it is the ideal embodiment of this group of songs. Mauve is murky but intense; it’s easy to imagine getting swallowed alive in an impenetrable sea of it. Ringo Deathstarr has always specialized in the murky, but on Mauve it’s even more pronounced than on last year’s Colour Trip. The vocals are thrown back in the mix, and slathered with reverb. On a lot of songs, it would be difficult to discern the lyrics if not for the song titles contained within. The guitars swirl as they pound, and Ringo Deathstarr come across as a heavier, harder-rocking version of Austin’s Pure X – similarly moody and atmospheric, but with more of a backbone.
This murkiness does allow for a cohesive sound over the course of the whole album, but it doesn’t always translate into great songs. On Colour Trip, their two-and-a-half minute bursts were propulsive and catchy. A song like “So High” was a sugar rush of adrenaline that came and went as fast as a hit of salvia. Even the more languid tracks like “Day Dreamy” were founded on sweet melodies in and amongst the ambience. On Mauve, though, the songs aren’t nearly as tight and the hooks are almost entirely absent. Yet the band still tries to keep their songs brief, which just makes them feel like they don’t go anywhere.
Understandably, this is not at all a problem on album centerpiece “Brightest Star.” Clocking in at just under six minutes, “Brightest Star” is immediately noticeable for the patience with which the band approaches it. The guitars swell and bend before the drums kick lazily in after about 40 seconds. The song slowly develops into a hazy tour de force – entirely different from anything on Colour Trip, but still undoubtedly of the same group. Maybe it’s just “Brightest Star”‘s lingering excellence, but the tracks immediately after it (“Drag,” “Fifteen”) seem to reinvigorate the record with life. “Drag” has a funky, stuttering percussion line, while the vocal interplay between Alex Gehring and Elliott Frazier on “Fifteen” is mesmerizing. The songs are great examples of Ringo Deathstarr’s trademark 90s melodies meeting the art-rock of the late 80s (think Cocteau Twins or Sonic Youth). But by the time you roll around to “Nap Time,” that glorious balance of murky and hooky is gone.
You’ve got to commend Ringo Deathstarr for pushing themselves and developing their sound. This is a group of musicians incapable of making a bad record, and they are truly one of the leading guitar-rock bands in the city. Some people will surely embrace this turn towards weirder, heavier, more dissonant material – “Rip,” for example, has already seemed to find favor with the Pitchfork crowd. However, as a fan of earlier songs like “Tambourine Girl” or “Imagine Hearts,” I hope they can strike a balance between Mauve‘s density and Colour Trip‘s melodicism as their exciting career continues.
Brian's Take on Mauve
I think I probably like Mauve more than Carter does, but his assessments aren’t wrong. This is a murky departure from Ringo Deathstarr’s previous LP and a definite move away from the poppier side of their sound. The band is still paying tribute to the likes of My Bloody Valentine and Sonic Youth, but on this release they’ve obviously chosen to explore a darker, almost progressive space. If anything the album is asking a little more of the listener while the band is asking a little more from themselves and navigating a familiar, yet tantalizingly foreign musical landscape.
If Colour Trip was Ringo Deathstarr as a rambunctious tween, then Mauve sees the band slipping into the dark clothing and second-hand Doc Marten’s of a moody teenager. Carter is right in that this is not a hook-laden album, at least not at first. In my experience, one can find a hook in almost any song if they look hard enough. This isn’t an album that’s trying to be instantly catchy though; it doesn’t want to live in your car, it wants to live in your stereo and be savored, not nibbled on.