Indie rock doesn’t ask much of its singers — just ask Arab Strap’s Aidan Moffat or the venerable Stephen Malkmus. There are exceptions, but whoever set the parameters decades ago did so without vocalists in mind and with their boot planted firmly on a fuzz box. Still, Adam Pierce (a.k.a. Mice Parade) makes you wonder. For a guy so deft at instrumental antics — at throwing gorgeously complex rhythms up against equatorial electronica — his recent decision to get behind the mike, as evidenced most prominently on Bem-Vinda Vontade, with such a bland monotone seems a bit daft. His previous effort, 2004’s Obrigado Saudade, teased us with Pierce’s pipes, but the percussion stayed manic enough, the textures unpredictable, that our eyebrows remained level. Now, on his ninth full-length, Pierce has settled himself in front of a live band and, unfortunately, given his four-note range a greater share of the mix.
In the midst of heady post-rock times, the release of Mice Parade’s Ramda in 1999 successfully melded Chicago’s Jetson-aged jazz-rock with a bit of trip-hop nostalgia. In many ways, it was a tragically overlooked record, especially considering how utterly a piece it sounded amid its Thrill Jockey brethren. But that was six years ago. Bem-Vinda Vontade is positively jammy next to Mice Parade’s earlier work. If it weren’t for the shoegaze hustle of “Passing & Galloping” and Pierce’s apathetic drawl, this stuff would keep the hacky-sack afloat at Bonnaroo — and that’s not a good thing.
Despite a stunning vocal turn by Mum’s Kristin Ann Valtysdottir and an inspired spat of drumming, “Nights Wave” doesn’t deliver on the promise of its dueling classical guitars. And neither, in fact, does “Ground as Cold as Common” or “Warm Hand in Farmland” — their nylon strings raging joylessly under Pierce’s dull delivery.
However much pop music may have neglected the classical guitar, Pierce isn’t the lucky guy to resurrect it. Nylon strings demand tunes with high metabolisms, quick reflexes and grounded aesthetics. Mice Parade’s intellectualism disqualifies it from the challenge. Bem-Vinda Vontade holds a wealth of possibility and occasionally manages a dramatic turn, but it’s performances that make records, not ideas, and Pierce would do well with a few more takes.