Mean Dreams is a thought experiment of an album, a set of possible answers to an unsolvable problem.
Formed in 2005 at Princeton, MOMS is that rare indie band with both a string section and a sense of humor. Evan Younger, Josh Hirshfeld, Kieran Ledwidge, Geoff McDonald, and Serge Terentev form this unique outfit that combines indie rock hooks with Kronos Quartet chops. This unconventional instrumentation leads to music that's a little more engaging and complex your run-of-the-mill guitar pop, carving its own uncanny valley.
"Follow Your Heart (Or Something)" wraps up the band's peppy nihilism in a poppy package. The ironically anthemic vocals and slightly off-putting violin lines and rhythm breaks ensure that listeners don't get too comfortable as studied detachment seeps from lyrics like "We can do what we want / But maybe not for long." Ringing arpeggios close the song, effervescent and fleeting.
"Don't Feed the Party Animal" uses jittery strings to evoke the feeling that "[your] skin's too tight". Syncopated drums overlaid with runs of violin triplets fight it out while a driving bassline animates the fun like a shot of adrenaline to the ticker. This song winks as it rollicks, turning its overstuffed campiness into a virtue. "Mothers in Jeans" bounces between wryly angst-ridden lyrics ("Goddamn, it's starting to show") and Hirshfeld's pinging, almost mocking mandolin. New drummer Terentev's sonorous snare holds the whole thing together, lending structure to the musings. "Jimjams" is haltingly romantic, lyrical strings interweaving with Younger's plaintive verses about lost love as machine-tooled drumbeats resist falling into reverie.
"Tapdance" skitters into a fitful handclap rhythm punctuated by the ethereal caterwauls of a children's choir, as if unable to escape its own neurotic cycle. "Bad Body" is another in a string of anatomizations of unhappy relationships, although it's elevated by emotional honesty and a crazy-cool bass walk-up. Bitterly bubblegum, "The Chop" is a gloriously mean-spirited kiss-off anthem. "Theme from the Magicians" vibrates with anxiety as it asks "are you physically there?". Strings swirl and build to a climax that dreamily asserts "this is real life". Cascading toms provide the uneven heartbeat of "Fidget" before sawing strings pile on the nerve-snapping tension. A standout on the album, the track dissolves in chanting voices and splashing cymbals. "Never Knew Normal" closes the album with a meditation on the fleeting nature of musical notoriety: "Did you hear the last band died? / They’re buried with their B-sides". Mournfully cheeky and musically simple, this track beautifully showcases the band's ability to ask uncomfortable questions, plucked strings poking at the truth like a jabbing finger.
This music is deeply nerdy in the best possible sense—it's inventive, earnest, free. The premise is simple: play traditionally "classical" string instruments in your pop/rock band. The execution, though, is fascinating. Miracles of Modern Science appeals as much to the intellect as the gut, not unlike genre-bending nerd rockers They Might Be Giants. Like TMBG, this band has an affinity for irony and exploring the unknowable (although MOMS pretty much confines itself to this side of the stratosphere). Mean Dreams is a thought experiment of an album, a set of possible answers to an unsolvable problem. MOMS neither affirms nor disproves—this is music suspended in a state of doubt.