Review Summary: A grand dance that's all about the little things.Connect the Dots
shows its hand fairly quickly, the first track “Machine” setting the scene with a gaping chasm of brooding synthesizers and latin rhythms branding the very first verse. The immediacy has a special sort of charm to it, expressing a level of confidence and “what you see is what you get” attitude that is certainly carried over to the rest of the album. But not all is quite what it seems, as there’s a surprising level of intricacy from time to time in the second effort from indie pop outfit MisterWives. The “alternative dance” label that’s often slapped on their music is warranted, yes, but those catchy beats tend to be fueled by another type of energy that’s more calculated and carefully channeled through each peppy number. Look further into “Machine” and the punchy staccato electric guitar chords and elaborate vocal harmonies flesh out the music even further as the song still manages to weave through different sections like clockwork. Then combine that with the slightly-wonky kinda-quirky keyboard moments in the high end of the mix. As a first-time MisterWives listener, this initial impression immediately made a fan out of me.
But that’s not to say the album as a whole ceases to impress. It does largely continue in the same vein as “Machine,” but gradually adding some new tricks from the band’s musical arsenal. The entire experience is fueled by a prominent marriage of anthemic larger-than-life arena rock moments with little colorful details, many of which result from the eclectic genre-bending. During my time with Connect the Dots
, I heard traces of synthpop, jazz, classic rock, dance-pop, trip-hop, and a number of other sounds surrounding the indie pop-driven fare that makes up the album’s majority. The group may be loud and energetic, but the little subtleties do add a lot of charm to what might have otherwise been a pretty ordinary album for its genre. Case in point: The amazing prechorus-chorus progression in “Drummer Boy.” After some beautiful piano-laden balladry that serves as a buildup, we get what sounds like a prelude to an explosive dance pop chorus. However, that’s not what happens. The track immediately slides into an intimate and controlled environment of precise guitar melodies and warm vocal harmonies; the volume changes pretty drastically, and the song’s unpredictability becomes one of its greatest strengths.
As for the production end of things, the music is incredibly crisp and clear. It might have benefited from a bit more grit, given some of the more brooding and even sultry moments - the latter represented in the bluesy guitar work and pounding rhythms of “Oh Love” - but it suffices just fine. Perhaps the best example of letting the production and mix shine is the phenomenal dynamic conflict presented in the record’s best piece “Revolution.” Warm piano chords clash with chilly synths as Mandy Lee’s rapid vocals slither and coil around to plant a sense of tension. The uplifting chorus may be a bit jarring, but it’s a strong contrast that highlights how flexible and diverse the production work is. Plus, that cool trumpet solo that Jesse Blum plays in the bridge also earns the song extra points. Unfortunately, the problem with Connect the Dots
is that the overarching formula does eventually get quite predictable. The songs start to run together around the second half, and while there’s diversity in the music, it doesn’t change the fact that it’s all going toward the same atmosphere and vibe. There are only so many ways that you can piece together anthemic choruses and peppy indie pop drum parts before things just get stale. The worst example is “Out of Tune Piano”; the swinging beat and quirky piano part may be fun at first, but the song as a whole is incredibly generic in spite of this. The “quiet-verse-loud-catchy-chorus” nature of the composition here is just boring, and the band don’t perform any interesting variations on it. Give it to any current pop star and nothing would really change.
Still, it doesn’t change the fact that there’s a lot of promise in MisterWives’ music. They’ve carved out a certain sound for themselves that, while familiar in places, is still unique for their style. If only they could work out some of the homogeneity and pop cliches they employ from time to time, they could become one of the finest pop acts around. Regardless, Connect the Dots
serves as a good stepping stone to potentially better things.