By Jordan Ottesen
For those of us heavily involved in the Provo music scene, MMEND has become a well known name around town after winning Velour’s Summer 2016 Battle of the Bands and making an appearance at the Rooftop Concert Series in 2017. Over the past year the ethereal art rock group has been hard at work on their debut album Spectator and the wait has been well worth it. Enlisting producer, compositional genius, and all around Provo golden boy Nate Pyfer, MMEND has succeeded in creating arguably one of the greatest art rock albums to ever come out of Provo.
Throughout Spectator is a theme of dissonance at play with resolve, anxiety and discontent at play with peace and acceptance, all tactfully interwoven to create a colorful atmosphere of awe, mystery, and sheer beauty. The album leans heavily on instrumental intricacies while maintaining smooth vocal lines and intentionally simplistic, though still thought-provoking, lyrics. Each chord and flavor feels unique here, breaking away from the predictable and easy-listening norms we’ve grown accustomed to hearing on the radio. A lot of the details in Spectator feel intended for fellow musicians, with many of these details likely to go unnoticed and unappreciated by layman ears. Yet the prevalent styles and grooves in this album give it a level of accessibility to be appreciated by anyone, regardless of how critically they listen. It’s fair to say this album can be just as much appreciated by a hyper focused critic as someone just looking for something new and unique to listen to at their desk job.
Two songs that particularly stand out are “Backroom” and “Slow Down.” “Backroom” is bursting at the seams with flavor and Radiohead influence, engaging electric beats and a suave bass groove reminiscent of songs like “Identikit” on Radiohead’s latest album, A Moon Shaped Pool. The tasteful sprinkles of gentle piano and smooth yet intentionally wavery vocals further echo styles of Thom Yorke. “Slow Down,” the final song on the album, is possibly the most dynamic piece in the collection with chilling vocal harmonies and that geniously crafted instrumental break at 1:48.
Utilizing minor tonalities, seemingly sickly synths, crunchy bass voices, and detuning effects galore (thanks Nate), Spectator often elicits feelings that there’s something seriously wrong, yet that feeling is portrayed so intentionally and gracefully that one can’t help but feel a comfortable and elegant beauty in it all. “Warm Hands Cold Heart” in particular evokes this feeling as a detuned synth lazily arpeggiates throughout the song accompanied by an equally detuned electric guitar, wandering bass line, glimmering and weeping pads, obscure vocal harmonies, and eventually ghost-like female vocals played backwards. Lead vocalist Mason Winter’s cautious but deliberate voice on top of it all brings every spine-tingling emotion together in a gorgeous symphony.
Spectator is an album you can’t simply listen to once. With each listen, I find something new – a voice or instrument I hadn’t noticed before or a structural decision that tells the story in a way I hadn’t considered. This album doesn’t have a single weak song and it feels unfair that I’m only able to give a few songs special attention in this review. The one week I’ve had to listen to this album just isn’t enough time to fully digest everything it has to offer and I imagine I’ll have plenty more to say well after this review is published. All in all, Spector is a brilliantly crafted work of art and I just can’t recommend it highly enough.
Make sure to like MMEND on Facebook and follow them on Instagram (@mmend.music). Listen to “Backroom” below!