Music

Mecca Normal: The Observer

Jason MacNeil

An eclectic piece of work that is vivid with lyrical imagery while relying on a style that brings to mind Lou Reed's New York landmark


Mecca Normal

The Observer

Label: Kill Rock Stars
US Release Date: 2006-04-11
UK Release Date: Available as import
iTunes affiliate
Amazon affiliate
Amazon
iTunes

Mecca Normal is the brainchild of one Jean Smith. She is one half of the band along with guitarist David Lester, but Smith seems to do the brunt of the work. And for this particular album, she has taken the concept of online dating, and Smith's experiences with these virtual and sometimes real relationships, and put it into music. The idea of online dating often evokes images of the antithesis of anything you'd hope for in a mate on the other end of the broadband or wi-fi connection. But here Smith gives it a different spin. And while some might see P.J. Harvey in a lot of her style and work, I don't think Harvey would be willing to put herself out there on such a rather odd or bizarre subject.

The opening "I'm Not Into Being the Woman You're with While You're Looking for the Woman You Want" is a sparse, minimal indie rock tune that features some subtle guitar accents behind a big series of riffs. It's a song that, while terribly simple, grows on you and finds you hook early on. Think of a cross between They Might Be Giants and Velvet Underground and this song becomes a bit clearer. The lyrics focus on a relationship that centers on each party stating their goals while the female tries to figure out "how to get his CDs back to him".

Several of these songs are quite pleasing, in terms of their tone and Smith's no-nonsense delivery. Partly singing and partly speaking the lines at times, a song like "Attraction Is Ephemeral" sounds like something Concrete Blonde might have put on wax. While knee-deep in indie rock, the horns off in the distance give it a great color as she refers to wearing a "Value Village bra". The simplicity of the song allows you to concentrate on the lines, with Smith sometimes giving delayed harmonies. There is nothing spectacular about the lyrics, but Smith consistently makes the mundane routines of life dance with each word, whether it's about taking the bus or the price of oranges. Meanwhile, the band picks things up tempo-wise with the guitar-driven "I'll Call You" that keeps the tension without ever breaking into something larger or grandiose. But generally, Mecca Normal knows what works best -- a slow but intricate tale that is near perfect on "1922", which Smith explains on her own blog as being a song about a man in 1922 who "swaggers happily around his European estate".

Fans of Lou Reed's New York album would find a lot of similarities between this record and that one. But whereas Reed sometimes ups the "rock" ante on that record with "Dirty Boulevard" or "Busload of Faith", Mecca Normal is quite content to rely on a simple but elegant groove while Smith waxes poetically. The lone exception to this norm however is the lengthy "Fallen Skier" that describes a first date. While keeping anyone's attention over 12 minutes is a huge task, Mecca Normal succeeds easily. The same can be said for "His Own Madness" that just slightly busier in terms of instruments than "Fallen Skier". But perhaps Smith outdoes herself with the vivid "The Dark Side of Maria", which discusses certain members and their various appearances.

The lone miscue could be "The Caribou & The Oil Pipeline" that doesn't quite measure up to the other tracks with Smith pushing her pipes, sometimes into territory that is stretching it at best. "Didn't think I could write a hit about the Caribou and the oil pipeline/ Didn't think I could write a hit but I had to try," she sings, almost as if she knows it didn't quite work. The title track wraps it up neatly, with Lester's guitar style and Smith's other potpourri of instruments coloring her stellar phrase coining. It's a very basic, but beautiful piece of work.

8


Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Music

The 10 Best Experimental Albums of 2015

Music of all kinds are tending toward a consciously experimental direction. Maybe we’re finally getting through to them.

Books

John Lewis, C.T. Vivian, and Their Fellow Freedom Riders Are Celebrated in 'Breach of Peace'

John Lewis and C.T. Vivian were titans of the Civil Rights struggle, but they are far from alone in fighting for change. Eric Etheridge's masterful then-and-now project, Breach of Peace, tells the stories of many of the Freedom Riders.

Music

Unwed Sailor's Johnathon Ford Discusses Their New Album and 20 Years of Music

Johnathon Ford has overseen Unwed Sailor for more than 20 years. The veteran musician shows no sign of letting up with the latest opus, Look Alive.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Jazz Trombonist Nick Finzer Creates a 'Cast of Characters'

Jazz trombonist Nick Finzer shines with his compositions on this mainstream jazz sextet release, Cast of Characters.

Music

Datura4 Travel Blues-Rock Roads on 'West Coast Highway Cosmic'

Australian rockers Datura4 take inspiration from the never-ending coastal landscape of their home country to deliver a well-grounded album between blues, hard rock, and psychedelia.

Books

Murder Is Most Factorial in 'Eighth Detective'

Mathematician Alex Pavesi's debut novel, The Eighth Detective, posits mathematical rules defining 'detective fiction'.

Music

Eyedress Sets Emotions Against Shoegaze Backdrops on 'Let's Skip to the Wedding'

Eyedress' Let's Skip to the Wedding is a jaggedly dreamy assemblage of sounds that's both temporally compact and imaginatively expansive, all wrapped in vintage shoegaze ephemera.

Film

Of Purges and Prescience: On David France's LGBTQ Documentary, 'Welcome to Chechnya'

The ongoing persecution of LGBTQ individuals in Chechnya, or anywhere in the world, should come as no surprise, or "amazement". It's a motif undergirding the history of civil society that certain people will always be identified for extermination.

Television

Padma Lakshmi's 'Taste the Nation' Questions What, Exactly, Is American Food

Can food alone undo centuries of anti-immigrant policies that are ingrained in the fabric of the American nation? Padma Lakshmi's Taste the Nation certainly tries.

Film

Performing Race in James Whale's 'Show Boat'

There's a song performed in James Whale's musical, Show Boat, wherein race is revealed as a set of variegated and contradictory performances, signals to others, a manner of being seen and a manner of remaining hidden, and it isn't "Old Man River".

Music

The Greyboy Allstars Rise Up to Help America Come Together with 'Como De Allstars'

If America could come together as one nation under a groove, Karl Denson & the Greyboy Allstars would be leading candidates of musical unity with their funky new album, Como De Allstars.

Music

The Beatles' 'Help!' Redefined How Personal Popular Music Could Be 55 Years Ago

Help! is the record on which the Beatles really started to investigate just how much they could get away with. The album was released 55 years ago this week, and it's the kick-off to our new "All Things Reconsidered" series.

Music

Porridge Radio's Mercury Prize-Nominated 'Every Bad' Is a Wonderful Epistemological Nightmare

With Every Bad, Porridge Radio seduce us with the vulnerability and existential confusion of Dana Margolin's deathly beautiful lyricism interweaved with alluring pop melodies.

Music

​​Beyoncé's 'Black Is King' Builds Identity From Afrofuturism

Beyoncé's Black Is King's reliance on Afrofuturism recuperates the film from Disney's clutches while reclaiming Black excellence.

Reading Pandemics

Colonial Pandemics and Indigenous Futurism in Louise Erdrich and Gerald Vizenor

From a non-Native perspective, COVID-19 may be experienced as an unexpected and unprecedented catastrophe. Yet from a Native perspective, this current catastrophe links to a longer history that is synonymous with European colonization.

Music

John Fullbright Salutes Leon Russell with "If the Shoe Fits" (premiere + interview)

John Fullbright and other Tulsa musicians decamped to Leon Russell's defunct studio for a four-day session that's a tribute to Dwight Twilley, Hoyt Axton, the Gap Band and more. Hear Fullbright's take on Russell's "If The Shoe Fits".

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.