Album Review: Mess – ‘Learning How to Talk’
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A year ago, Mess quietly released a single called “Cave.” It’s an atmospheric slowburn, almost like if Daughter went dream pop. At the time, “Cave” was meant to precede a fall album release. Of course, that didn’t work out, and the album was pushed back until spring 2019. But now it’s finally here. Mess’ debut LP Learning How to Talk is, thankfully, worth the wait and indeed pairs perfectly with April weather.
“Cave” was a good choice for lead single; it’s a great taste of the album’s sound and vibes. Expect drawn-out dynamics and sweeping buildups, dreamlike guitars, and a heavy emphasis on space. Learning How to Talk almost feels hazy, like all the instruments and tones blur together while Allison Gliesman’s voice floats above it all. Gliesman probably deserves special recognition. Their voice is soft and breathy and really very pretty, and Learning How to Talk has easily one of the better vocal performances I have heard this year. Gliesman commands the listener’s attention in a way rarely heard on album of this sort; after all, none of the songs (save “Cave”) really have hooks at all.
But Gliesman is far from the record’s only redeeming quality. Most of these songs could stand on their own even without vocals. “Drown” and “Whole Again,” for example, are reminiscent of cuts from Pianos Become the Teeth’s Keep You in the way that they draw from post-rock textures and structures, but compress them into shorter, more easily digestible pieces. Of course the addition of Gliesman’s vocals enhances the tracks, but the crashing bridge of “Drown” is breathtaking enough, and the moment when “Whole Again” picks up into a tremolo-plucked climax is a highlight of the entire record.
If I can draw one final comparison, it would be to Now, Now’s classic Threads. Learning How to Talk feels, to me, like the follow-up I expected to that album. Like Threads, it has the energy of a rock album with the patience of a post-rock album, wrapped in the fuzz of shoegaze and dream pop. I could mention a million bands of whom I hear shades in this album, but I can’t think of another band that Mess sounds like. That sort of originality doesn’t make Learning How to Talk good on its face, but it definitely makes it interesting. Thankfully, Learning How to Talk also happens to be an extremely impressive debut LP.
Disappointing / Average / Good / Great / Phenomenal
Zac Djamoos | @greatwhitebison
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