Mountaineers and I are thinking about pop music in the same way right now. It needs something, some tweaking to make it sound as if it’s caught up to the 21st century. The natural move: to the computer. Messy Century is Mountaineers debut album, following two EPs. The standby rock music formula is tweaked very slightly — layered on top of acoustic guitars and crooning vocals are laptop beats and lo-fi electronic sound washes, producing something sort of like updated classic rock, done in a very “alternative” sort of way.
While Messy Century may be masquerading in the garb of “progressive pop,” the jamming acoustic guitars and fist-pumping choruses make this sound like a vaguely rebellious offspring of the Dave Matthews Band. Perhaps this sounds cool right now in Liverpool, where Mountaineers are based; here it sounds like something you hear on a Gap commercial. Like most contemporary rock music, Messy Century is very dependant on its influences, namely Syd Barrett, the Rolling Stones and other British guitar rock from the ’70s through the ’90s.
The Barrett connections are the strongest, as most of the album could be described as The Madcap Laughs-style psychedelic pop, but totally lacking in Barrett’s imaginative lyrics and vocal melodies. “All My Life” is a series of poor-boy cliches: “I’ve been searching for dignity — never seems to come easily.” Anthemic choruses pervade. “WON’T YOU! TRUST ME! NEED ME!” (from “Ripen,” the single) — “AND IT’S TRUE! WHAT I’M TRYIN’ TO DO! CUZ I’M SHARP ENOUGH TO KNOW, I’VE GOT A CHORE TO DO, IT’S TRUE!”
Yes, these are actual choruses from a band Mute’s press release describes as possessing “strong songwriting” ability.
The scrubbed-clean guitars and hackneyed vocal delivery make this sound like slick, watered-down, radio music. And the electronics don’t add much. You want them to be more adventurous, to be a presence and not just a replacement for the drummer. I guess it isn’t surprising to read that they originally added the beatbox as a stand-in for an absentee drummer. Some of the more electronic-based stuff toward the end of Messy Century sounds a little better. The cheeky electro-pop of “Bom Bom” benefits without a guitar to compete with, and the computerized vocals and moody synth sounds of “Apart from This” offer some respite.