|Album Rating: A-|
As a reviewer, my role as a cog in the music-entertainment industry is always made more meaningful, and a damned sight more interesting, when an album presents itself as something to be explored. Suddenly, reviewing becomes assessment: an album can be discussed, explained and interpreted on top of simply being described. It becomes a critique of art instead of what can so often amount to a glorified sales pitch. To condense these last few lines into a few words: the repressed academic inside me grins like the smug, sorry and sordid nerd that it is.
Mmpsuf fit this specification to a T. Emerging from the darkest reaches of the Lithuanian capital in early 2011, their two releases to date revolve around the idea of music representing a purpose. Retina, in particular, focuses on the visual manifestations of music and of “the beauty”. Mmpsuf seek to slowly unveil the beauty of their latest release, and in turn alter our perceptions of what beauty actually is.
As grandiose as it sounds, the method they employ is decidedly simple, if not incredibly risky. Retina begins with a steady barrage of dark, distorted waves of sound, offbeat drums and squealing strings paired with soft, exhausted vocals. To the unaccustomed ear, “The Beauty” is intolerable. But after all, the “the Beauty” is Retina’s destination. Throughout its runtime, the music becomes more accessible, ultimately coming to a close with a more conventional display of beauty in the form of an acoustic tale. Here Elge’s vocals easily fill the void left by all the electronics: maintaining the kind of breathy, soulful expression that drips with a defiant sadness. By moving towards music we relate to more easily, mmpsuf push our fondness backwards, towards the opener. At a point, “The Beauty” becomes bearable. Eventually it develops into something rather wonderful. The song itself doesn’t change at all, just our perception, and it’s with this that Retina truly triumphs.
In between these two polar opposites, we witness everything from acapella openings to blaring horn melodies; all containing a clear sense of progression as is fitting for the album. The development of “The Sailors”, especially, is positively infectious with the insistent percussion and keyboards driving the song forwards. As usual, the means are quite subtle, though the effect is powerful nonetheless.
Perhaps it could be said that mmpsuf don’t quite reach their goal: Retina can sometimes seem convoluted and, at worst, oppressive. Those with enough patience, however, will unravel a collection of slow, sad and atmospheric tracks all uniquely beautiful. With Retina, Mmpsuf have reached for the moon and have managed to brush it, a preview for what I can only hope becomes a long, exciting career.
Retina was released on 1st February 2012 and can be purchased, streamed or downloaded for free from their official website.
1. The Beauty
2. The Sailors
3. God's Retina
4. The Wind
5. The Rooms