[Rocket; 2018]

Styles: psychedelic rock, post-punk
Others: BEAK>, Suuns, Cavern of Anti-Matter

How many all-star games have made it to the history books? Certainly less than the number of title matches preserved in the annals of epic sporting achievements. Successful superteams aren’t that rare, but the notion of an ensemble of star players is more heavily associated with competitive sports rather than art. An unavoidable situation when considering the work of a band composed of members from established acts; in the case of MIEN, The Horror’s Tom Furse, The Black Angels’ Alex Mass, The Earlies’ John-Mark Lapham, and Elephant Stone’s Rishi Dhir. The four-piece’s self-titled debut offers 10 tracks that don’t fall far from its members’ main projects, therefore guaranteeing to attract the fans these musicians carry with them. But then again, such a low-stakes strategy makes you wonder if fans would actually prefer to hear new music by the very bands the four have temporarily set aside. If not graced by the name recognition of The Black Angels and The Horrors, would an album like MIEN have garnered their attention otherwise?

Of course, acting cynical about an album’s release narrative would get us nowhere but a permanent state of apathetic exhaustion. If nothing else, MIEN is the work of accomplished players operating in their area of expertise. That should count as a plus. On the other hand, none of the four musicians stretch out of their comfort zones in terms of concept or aesthetics, staying in what was already a pretty narrow space to begin with — say, a dark-tinged take on psychedelia. Indeed, “Black Habit,” the album’s first single, introduced MIEN’s sound close to the cavernous motorik experimentation one would anticipate from an offshoot of The Horrors. Other tracks like “(I’m Tired Of) Western Shouting” evoke the muscularly psychedelic style of The Black Angels, while “Hocus Pocus” recalls The Horrors yet again. Even standout track “Earth Moon,” bright and melodious in comparison to the hazier songs that surround it, brings to mind the sound of The Brian Jonestown Massacre circa 1996… yes, another band that one of MIEN’s members was once part of.

And that’s one way to enjoy this album, trying to break apart the Voltron-like summation of musical threads. Redundancy might be an issue if gloom-inflicted psychedelia were not one’s genre of choice, but MIEN avoids falling into the self-indulgent torpor most supergroups are guilty of. All the tracks on this album have been polished into properly-formed songs, each with distinctive structures and elements. The self-aggrandizing impulses, if not exhibitionistic egotism, of superstar showcases are thankfully absent from these compositions. Too bad that the melodic whims of 1980s synth-pop-aping The Horrors and the trance-inducing intensity of The Black Angels are also lost to such restraint. MIEN can hardly boast a memorable song, with (second single) “Earth Moon” providing the album’s sole moment of quasi catchiness. It’s like the industrial-psych groove that ostensibly works as the glue holding together the quartet’s roots overtook the whole project, threatening MIEN with a homogeneity that nullifies the otherwise endearing quirks of each musician.

While musical collaborations by established artists are quite common in a live setting, where the volatile nature of the performance brings an additional layer of value to such temporal unions, it’s harder for listeners to find a rationale for projects of this ilk once they materialize in the form of a record. Perhaps the best way to approach a band like MIEN, then, is to frame it as an act of generosity — a way for these musicians to expand the outlets through which they can engage their fans. While the songs here are not memorable in the buzzer-beating manner of a title shot, no one would prefer a world where all-star matches were missing. They are far too enjoyable to submit them to any notion of purposefulness and efficiency. Being a fun opportunity to see your favorites excel at their craft is reason enough to assure their existence. And that is something one finds in spades through MIEN’s 10 tracks. The band’s name already points us in that direction. Behold: four dark-psychedelic denizens effortlessly being who they are. Hear them flex and strut at your leisure. Enjoy it while it lasts.

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