Review: Mattachine Social – Close EP

a2637816678_10The four-piece Mattachine Social is an electronic rock outfit from Portland, Oregon. With one foot in colourfully-textured shoegazing dream pop and another in old-school industrial rock, Mattachine Social adopts a unique and inspired sonic style that I’ve heard from very few other bands. Their sound has been described as a hybrid of Björk and The Jesus and Mary Chain, but to my ears, the group strikes me more as a hypothetical tribrid of post-industrial group How to destroy angels_, the acidic dance-punk band The Rapture, and the dreamy experimental Bear in Heaven. Released on the first of October last year, the Close EP is the follow-up to Mattachine Social’s 2012 release Nice Is the New Punk Rock, presenting us with three new tracks, two demos and a remix, with varying results.

For those of you who didn’t listen to Nice Is the New Punk Rock, imagine if Trent Reznor got bored with making catchy, yet tortured industrial rock and decided he wanted to start incorporating elements of indietronica and the 80s Madchester movement into the Nine Inch Nails equation, and substituted the pretentious masturbatory lyrics for abstract and oddly-sexual lyrics and vocal deliveries. It may sound kind of weird, but that’s because it definitely was. It was an extremely alienating record, but one I’ve rather enjoyed listening to, and one I’ve found benefits from repeat listens.

Mattachine Social decided to clean the slate and start over again on Close, and the aberration is noticeable from the first seconds of the title track “CLOSE”, wherein a slow ambient opening is quickly dominated by half-sung, half-spoken word vocals played over instrumentation that invokes the feeling of a classic industrial track, with its use of stuttering hi-hats and mechanical synth. From there, the album plays around with various other sonic mediums, including shoegaze-esque dreary electronics, robotically-autotuned vocals and, at one point, a sick solo from a speech synthesizer a la “Fitter Happier”.

Say this about Mattachine Social on the Close EP, though, they really don’t want the listener to be bored at any point while listening to them. Songs almost have a progressive nature to them in how they’re constantly adding different nuances and little touches to the instrumentation at every conceivable interval. While this approach to songwriting is very cool and offers up a more diverse dynamic than Nice Is the New Punk Rock, it does come at the cost of the songs being a lot less catchy and a lot less likely to get lodged in your head after hearing them. Depending on your preference of catchiness vs. progression, the Close EP could either be slow and plodding or enriching and largely rewarding. Although I can certainly appreciate the ambitions taken on this EP, overall I found it a lot less replayable and substantial than Nice Is the New Punk Rock.

To me, the bonus tracks on this record are where Mattachine Social truly shine. Ignoring the lukewarm demo of the title track “Close”, all of the bonus tracks on this EP take the group’s sound in completely different directions than what’s seen on either of their EPs, and I find the different paths taken on these songs to be a lot more enjoyable and promising than the new tracks presented. The track “Lovers”, for instance, is a remix of the alt-dance-esque “Lovers” from NItNPR, only this time, transformed entirely into a song that bears most resemblance to a future garage track you’d see from Burial or SBTRKT. The middle of the song in particular bears such a striking resemblance to a Disclosure track that I have to wonder if last year’s Settle record was a direct influence.

The zenith of Close is the demo version of “May Fortune Find You Alone”. I’m not usually one for unfinished demos, but listening to this song, you’d barely be able to connect it to the finished version. While the original version of this song was very synth-heavy with a huge emphasis on playful vocal processing and effects, this version is a relatively slow instrumental with droning, otherworldly synth overriding it. Mattachine Social tout their sound as a whole as being “shoegaze”, but it’s the most present on this track. The hazy and murky atmosphere sounds like it’s soundtracking being in a dark room with fog machines and laser lights illuminating. Really, this track feels like it’d be more appropriate on a Fuck Buttons or 65daysofstatic record than alongside “Nowhere” and “Close”, but for what it’s worth, it’s my favourite song on the EP.

That said, I’m torn on what to think about the Close EP as a whole. On one hand, I applaud the group’s willingness to experiment with ever-changing songwriting, but on another, I’m just not sure the change paid off. The band put a lot of effort into upping the experimentation on a formula that really doesn’t benefit from it. If they had gone a little further into changing the core sound to fit the change (different song structures, different tones, etc.), it could’ve made the album a lot more captivating.

As it stands, I’m not sure I’d recommend the Close EP over Nice Is the New Punk Rock. While I enjoyed parts of Close, and while I’d prefer listening to it over the modern-day dance-rock bands getting airplay nowadays (looking at you New Politics), the songs on it feel somewhat insubstantial and far less standout than a lot of their electronic rock peers. Both albums are available to stream via Mattachine Social’s Bandcamp page, and I’d highly suggest you check out their debut EP, then work your way to Close if you like what you hear.

Despite my coming away from the Close EP cold, I am anticipating Mattachine Social’s next release to see where they go from here. If they can explore their sonic capabilities more, upping the ante on the instrumentation and playing around with the production more, while reviving the catchy, sticking power of their debut, I could see these guys being a worthy addition to the contemporary indie and electronic rock scene. I’m expecting good things from you, Mattachine Social.

Your friend,
Jess Casebeer

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