[21 February 2007]
With a new line up that features only one of the founding members of the band (Andrew Prinz) you wouldn’t be surprised if Mahogany took a few giant steps away from the dream-pop sound that the band has so studiously developed. Instead the band has crafted another shimmering disc of dream-pop that carries the lineage of Cocteau Twins, My Bloody Valentine, and New Order so proudly that the band comes dangerously close to losing its own identity altogether. Add to the mix the talent of Cocteau Twins’ Robin Guthrie mixing three of the songs and you may find your mind wandering back to those heady days of 1988 and Blue Bell Knoll.
As with many classic dream-pop records, the power of ‘Connectivity!’ is built layer by layer. Songs start as sweeping aural soundscapes before gaining traction with programmed and live drums, shimmering echo effected guitar, a chanted incantation of a lyric, a boy-girl harmony, elements laid on one another like puppies trying to keep warm. As one element is added and another expanded, rarely is one removed once it’s presented, the songs grow into swirling walls of icy glitter festooned with trailing shards of leaky glow sticks. I guess I mean that the songs are more feelings and notions, more abstractions than traditional songs would ever dare to be. Nowhere will you find the comfort of verse-chorus-verse or, at times, hooks. Lyrics are strange meditations on things like architecture and art theory (?), and while it sounds like ‘Connectivity!’ is an album of experimental music, it remains firmly grounded in the accessibility that made dream-pop a popular and influential genre.
The first six songs of ‘Connectivity!’ are its strongest suite. The back-to-back punch of “Mantissa” and “Neo-Plastic Boogie-Woogie” coupled with “Supervitesse” is as strong an argument for dream-pop being a valid and current mode of musical experimentation as you’ll probably find this side of the year 2000. Those three songs alone make a Herculean effort to save ‘Connectivity!’ from the near inescapable comparisons it will garner to its forebears. The songs are vibrant, thickly layered, percussion driven compositions that display the band at its best. The back half of the record lets up a bit, succumbing to the dream-pop curse of predictability and aural sameness.
‘Connectivity!’, indeed all the band’s recorded output, brazenly stakes its merits on its indebtedness to a narrow sub-genre of a narrow genre. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. In fact, the reinvention of older styles and sounds is arguably essential to rock music. Except that ‘Connectivity!’ feels less like reinvention and more like rehashing/repackaging. Mahogany isn’t reinventing dream-pop for a new generation of listeners, it’s simply slapping a fresh face on the same atmospheric swells and chimes. While Mahogany does an excellent job of recreating the lush dream-pop sound, it can’t be said that the band advances the sound any further. ‘Connectivity!’ could just as well be a covers record, so authentic is its rendering of past glory. I’m sure that Robin Guthrie was having delightful flashbacks to his youth as he manipulated the band’s sound into an often faithful reconstruction of his best moments with Cocteau Twins. I’m also sure that the band was understandably star struck by his presence behind the mixing board, but at some point the student needs to grab the pebble out of the master’s hand and set off into the world to create their own path.
Is Mahogany’s approach to reinvention less valid than, say, Howlin’ Rain’s faithful resurrection of ‘70s country rock? The difference maker lies in the genre. While no one can doubt that dream-pop has a confirmed hold as a respected elder to much of what we now call indie rock, the indie rock family tree pretty much looks like a shrub next to traditional rock’s fully grown oak. How you as a listener relate to that narrowly defined world is what ultimately will decide how you feel about ‘Connectivity!’: If you have zero connections to the past glory of the dream-pop movement you may be decidedly under whelmed.
‘Connectivity!’ is an album good enough to deserve the effort of a listen completely removed from the baggage (positive and negative) that it carries. It’s unlikely that ‘Connectivity!’ will be given that opportunity, though it’s unclear the band even wants the opportunity to make their own distinct impression. If the band wanted to make a solid statement about who they were, create a little separation between themselves and their history, perhaps they should have asked Guthrie to contribute his still powerful skills to an EP of remixes.
The challenge in listening to ‘Connectivity!’ doesn’t lie in penetrating any sonic road blocks, indeed their music is very pop friendly. The challenge for Mahogany is to create some sort of separation between themselves and the dream-pop influences the band clearly holds dear to their hearts. The consequent challenge for the listener is to hear these songs without making constant comparisons to the hey day of dream-pop. As a listener there’s an inescapable tendency to look over the band’s shoulder; you know, part the curtain and get a look at the wizard. Maybe it shouldn’t be that way, maybe it’s unfair to take a band to task for nestling in comfortably to a particular genre, for paying it homage, for keeping it alive, but when the band is as deeply talented as Mahogany you really want them to succeed on their own merits, in an atmosphere that embraces them as originators not imitators.