Mombi – The Wounded Beat
Posted In: Alex Gibson, Kael Smith, Matt Herron, Mombi, Mombi – The Wounded Beat, Own Records, The Wounded Beat
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Music listeners are often divided into two categories… The first camp is made up of people that take a fairly philosophical approach to music – able to appreciate the fact that a great deal of effort and financial sacrifice is required by the artist, that if not for that effort, then much music would not exist at all. This camp is able to appreciate almost any type of artistic expression, able to appreciate the fact that the actual act of creativity is a laudable thing in and of itself.
The second camp is larger, and houses a greater number. This camp is comprised of those that view music on a descending scale of merit and value. The common viewpoint would be that some music has more inherent value and skill embodied in it, and the less that a recorded project conforms to these preapproved preferences, then it is of little comparative merit. It goes without saying that the sliding scale by which these judgments are made are comprised entirely of the personal opinion of the listener.
Given that experimental music has no rulebook, most readers of this site would (I think) fall into the first category. There is no scale or set of boundaries for them to judge a release by, as the idea is to push or escape those boundaries entirely. An idea doesn’t have to be in key. The time signatures do not have to sit just so, there is no need to squeeze it into three minutes with choruses designed for radio.
Mombi’s “The Wounded Beat”, in this context, presents a unique challenge for a listener. It’s a record that displays a lot of the hallmarks of an experimental record, but at the same time conforms to the more stringent and binding rules of songwriting. In this capacity, it can alienate both camps. Recent releases that blend this concept (James Blake and Radiohead spring to mind) have met with some success, whilst drawing no small amount of flak from many quarters for the same reason. The fan of no boundaries is offended by their imposition, and the fan of boundaries is offended by them being moved, ignored or adjusted.
Can’t please everyone.
The primary components of “The Wounded Beat” are many, but the songs appear to have sprung from acoustic folk based compositions. In more than one place, the vocal delivery and the sparse guitar work are reminiscent of white-tipped, Alpine-mountain tinged folk of the seventies ala John Denver. This is counterpointed with heavily reverbed and soundscaped backing that lend a considerable weight, and the piano work is tastefully unobtrusive.
Those wedded to the concept of conventional songwriting may find it infuriating. Working on the premise that if vocals are to be placed front and center as the primary point of reference, it would stand to reason that they would be strongly delivered and the lyrics would be able to withstand the scrutiny that this placement warrants. A number of genres sidestep this by placing vocals back or putting heavy effects on them (examples? Insert your favorite shoegaze band here. Mogwai, ‘Hunted By The Freak’. ISIS, barring their last two records).
A number of the songs on this record display talent – ‘Glowing Beatdown’, for example is worthy of mention. The tail end of the record is incredibly sedate, and has many interesting musical ideas. The delayed guitar in ‘Cascade Cliffs (Looking Down)’ is genuinely moving. The press for the record mentions a 3-year gestation/development period, which makes it hard for me to criticize the obvious effort involved. Perhaps my resistance to the record is a subconscious reaction towards overproduction; given that it seems to have been an album redesigned in the making, perhaps the caesarean nature of its delivery telegraphs its forced nature.
On a personal level, I find flawed masterpieces intriguing. I was unable to dismiss the record after listening to it once, and despite my ambivalent reaction to it I found myself returning to it. I suspect that over time my resistance to the elements that grated with my sensibilities would become less, and over time it may reveal itself to be a very clever and sensitive record. This tends to indicate that over time Kael Smith and Matt Heron may develop their unique sound further, and with some creative and unconventional production, subsequent records may prove to be stellar. Keith Keniff, better known for his releases as Helios and Goldmund but here wearing the hat of producer, has done a very good job of making the record sound very high quality – more than once I was disarmed by the mixing and placement, but really cracking the whip on performance and delivery from the artists may have delivered the extra 20% that would have seen this record move from interesting to engaging. The musical ideas all have merit, and there is undoubtedly an audience for literate ambi-electrofolk, but a stronger foot in either camp may give the act the deliberate strength it requires to rise above others.
I would suggest that this record is a good test of which camp you personally fall into as a listener. I am still uncertain of where it places me, and for that it is valuable.
The track ‘The Misunderstanding’ is available as a free download, and is a good barometer of the album as a whole (if with a little more beats than the rest).
The description from the artist -
“Mombi (Mom-bee) is the songwriting duo of Kael Smith and Matt Herron. The two grew up together in Colorado and have been playing music together for the last 6 years. Songs are written around Smith’s hypnotic guitar work and soft vocals, and fleshed out with Herron’s piano and keys. Both members also employ minimal percussion, creative sampling and layers of ambience to achieve their dark, moody sound. Guitarist Andrew Solanyk, a longtime friend and frequent musical collaborator, rounds out the lineup on stage.
The band’s previous project, Khale, released the album Sleepworks in May of 2008 on the European imprint Own Records, and toured Europe in the months of June and July of that year. After the warm reception on the road, Smith and Herron holed up in their studio almost immediately to work on a follow-up. As the songs began to take on a much different tone than Sleepworks, the band decided to change the name to Mombi. The moniker is taken from the movie Return to Oz, a beloved childhood film of Smith’s.
As the band worked diligently on new material in their studio, they were inspired by the production sound of Keith Kenniff (Helios, Goldmund etc.) and contacted him about recording the new album. After several months of sending song ideas back and forth over e-mail, both parties agreed to record at Kenniff’s studio in June of 2009 in Portland, OR.
The collaboration proved to be a huge success. The band tracked over 10 songs during this session and quickly hit it off with Kenniff, as he provided the touches of ambience and warm, intimate sound the duo were seeking for their songs. After returning to Denver with Kenniff’s mixes, Smith and Herron weren’t quite satisfied with the cohesion of the album as a whole, and continued to stockpile new ideas and recordings. The decision was then made to do away with many of the tracks containing bigger beats and loud guitars, and shape the entire record around their slower, more introspective songs, a process that would take another year to complete. After eventually picking several more songs out of a large crop of material, and meticulously fine-tuning the mixes with Kenniff over e-mail, the pieces of The Wounded Beat finally came together.
Opener “Monsoon” is built around a menacing gospel choir sample and 4/4 kick beat as Smith’s eerie vocals dance subtly around dark piano chords and buzzing synths. The stripped down acoustic guitar and piano of “Glowing Beatdown” lightens the mood for a moment with achingly beautiful lines by Smith, while “The Misunderstanding” eases the listener back into the gloom with ghostly electric guitar swells and a strong, driving rhythm. Other highlights include the creatively arranged acoustic guitar micro beat hybrid “Time Goes,” and the ambient beauty of “A General Map of Love.”
Nearly three years in the making, The Wounded Beat is a powerful album of solemn, electronic- tinged folk, with the perfect amount of optimism lurking amidst its lonely sounds”
- Review by Alex Gibson for Fluid Radio