Mint Julep Serve Up Luminous Synthpop with 'Stray Fantasies'

Photo: Keith Kenniff / Courtesy of Terrorbird Media

Husband and wife duo, Mint Julep take a break from their respective solo projects and release a collection of smart, danceable earworms, Stray Fantasies.

Stray Fantasies
Mint Julep

Western Vinyl

31 January 2020

Hollie and Keith Kenniff, the husband and wife team of Mint Julep, have been hard at work individually over the last few years. Hollie's solo album, The Gathering Dawn, was released last year, and Keith has been busy with his two side projects, Helios and Goldmund. The work Hollie and Keith do individually usually veers toward more ambient, experimental styles, but Mint Julep has always been more of an accessible synthpop act. So it's no surprise that Stray Fantasies, their first album since 2016's Broken Devotion, is a full-fledged return to the retro-leaning, low-key indie dance rhythms of their previous work.

While Stray Fantasies stands in stark contrast to Hollie and Keith's solo projects, it's by no means less substantial than those more experimental albums. The pop-oriented structure may be more of a crowd-pleaser, but it's executed exquisitely and without a trace of shameless nostalgia. While there are definite nods to 1980s standard-bearers like New Order and Erasure, it's easier to see them as kindred spirits to current artists like the Drums or the Pains of Being Pure at Heart: scooping up influences of the past while remaining unique and deeply relevant.

Stray Fantasies sees a band working within an easily identifiable synthpop structure but bouncing around comfortably within the genre with songs that all have a unique stamp. First single "Blinded" sets up the album with pulsing synths and a simple, driving beat enveloping Hollie's vocal melodies. The title track veers back and forth between simple, low-key verses and booming, rousing chorus sections. "Unite" works against a distorted, almost industrial-style synth bed before all sorts of hooks and melodies are plucked out of the air. It's a particularly bracing style that manages to combine edginess with a pop sensibility.

The sort of pop/punk duality of Mint Julep's music is inevitable, as Keith explains in the album's press materials: "Hollie grew up listening to a lot of industrial music, and we both listened to a lot of punk. But also, growing up a lot in the late 1970s and 1980s, we both have a lot of pop music from that time in our blood." Songs like "Escape" and "Vakaras" go a long way in mining that conflation of influences – the stark rhythms and distorted vocal tracks give the songs an air of mystery and aloofness among the dance beats.

The album layers so many instruments into the mix, it's hard to believe that this is a duo. Yuuki Matthews of the Shins engineered the album masterfully. But the sonic effect is rich and vast and never seems overstuffed or fussy. The multi-tracked results can often be quite stunning, especially when sudden cascades of instrumentation join Hollie's hazy, dreamy vocals.

In the closing track, "Iteration", staccato keyboards team up with chiming, Johnny Marr-style guitars, and as the musical intensity builds in the chorus, the vocals threaten to get lost in the mix, but they slice through the cacophony. It's a beautiful noise, and it sounds like music you've heard before, maybe in a dream. But Mint Julep has brought their considerable talents and influences to the table with a new album that sounds warm and unique, with beats and melodies that will stick with the listener long after it's all over.

Related Articles Around the Web




Dancing in the Street: Our 25 Favorite Motown Singles

Detroit's Motown Records will forever be important as both a hit factory and an African American-owned label that achieved massive mainstream success and influence. We select our 25 favorite singles from the "Sound of Young America".


The Durutti Column's 'Vini Reilly' Is the Post-Punk's Band's Definitive Statement

Mancunian guitarist/texturalist Vini Reilly parlayed the momentum from his famous Morrissey collaboration into an essential, definitive statement for the Durutti Column.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

What Will Come? COVID-19 and the Politics of Economic Depression

The financial crash of 2008-2010 reemphasized that traumatic economic shifts drive political change, so what might we imagine — or fear — will emerge from the COVID-19 depression?


Datura4 Take Us Down the "West Coast Highway Cosmic" (premiere)

Australia's Datura4 deliver a highway anthem for a new generation with "West Coast Highway Cosmic". Take a trip without leaving the couch.


Teddy Thompson Sings About Love on 'Heartbreaker Please'

Teddy Thompson's Heartbreaker Please raises one's spirits by accepting the end as a new beginning. He's re-joining the world and out looking for love.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Little Protests Everywhere

Wherever you are, let's invite our neighbors not to look away from police violence against African Americans and others. Let's encourage them not to forget about George Floyd and so many before him.


Carey Mercer's New Band Soft Plastics Score Big with Debut '5 Dreams'

Two years after Frog Eyes dissolved, Carey Mercer is back with a new band, Soft Plastics. 5 Dreams and Mercer's surreal sense of incongruity should be welcomed with open arms and open ears.


Sondre Lerche Rewards 'Patience' with Clever and Sophisticated Indie Pop

Patience joins its predecessors, Please and Pleasure, to form a loose trilogy that stands as the finest work of Sondre Lerche's career.


Ruben Fleischer's 'Venom' Has No Bite

Ruben Fleischer's toothless antihero film, Venom is like a blockbuster from 15 years earlier: one-dimensional, loose plot, inconsistent tone, and packaged in the least-offensive, most mass appeal way possible. Sigh.


Cordelia Strube's 'Misconduct of the Heart' Palpitates with Dysfunction

Cordelia Strube's 11th novel, Misconduct of the Heart, depicts trauma survivors in a form that's compelling but difficult to digest.


Reaching For the Vibe: Sonic Boom Fears for the Planet on 'All Things Being Equal'

Sonic Boom is Peter Kember, a veteran of 1980s indie space rockers Spacemen 3, as well as Spectrum, E.A.R., and a whole bunch of other fascinating stuff. On his first solo album in 30 years, he urges us all to take our foot off the gas pedal.


Old British Films, Boring? Pshaw!

The passage of time tends to make old films more interesting, such as these seven films of the late '40s and '50s from British directors John Boulting, Carol Reed, David Lean, Anthony Kimmins, Charles Frend, Guy Hamilton, and Leslie Norman.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

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