Review Summary: Sun-soaked psychedelia that inspires some lofty comparisons.
The first thing I thought when I heard Plastic Mermaids’ debut Suddenly Everyone Explodes
was “The Flaming Lips meet MGMT.” The Isle of Wight psychedelic five-piece undoubtedly demonstrates traits of both famous outfits – from the melodic swagger and immediacy of the simmering psych-pop masterpiece ‘1996’ to more subtle and nuanced cuts of atmospheric rock, like ‘Floating in a Vacuum.’ The band, who built their own analogue studio and self-produced this record, seem destined to receive that torch – one that only a band as talented and fun as Plastic Mermaids could successfully wield while facing the bright lights of the mainstream head-on.
I’m quick to assume that’s where the band is headed, not because I believe it to be their end-game, but because that’s where music this instantly loveable and engaging typically arrives. Lead vocalist Douglas Richards has a few different modes, which range from quirky and elf-like (’10,000 Violins Playing Inside an Otherwise Empty Head’) to convincingly sincere and down-to-earth (‘Milk’). The band backs him to the farthest edges of his imagination, whether it’s the warm and straightforward acoustic guitars of ‘I Still Like Kelis’ or the cold, robotic detachment of ‘Luliuli.’ Plastic Mermaids seem capable of executing any style, a trait that lends their inherent boundaries a sense of elasticity; nothing feels off-limits and the only surprise in their music would be, well, to actually be
surprised. Take the full-stop halfway through ‘1996’ for example – it’s not often that you hear a full-throttle, forward momentum indie-pop banger cease entirely mid-track and totally shift focus. This is a band that’s not afraid to try something like that, because the risk of alienating their very early fandom is outweighed by the benefit of establishing their own vision, which they do quite successfully here.
The biggest challenge in appreciating Suddenly Everyone Explodes
is finding a balance between all the various styles on display. It was a bit difficult for me to adjust on-the-fly between crowd-pleasers like ‘1996’, or the swelling chorus and sweeping poignancy of ‘Yoyo’, and tracks that are far more subdued in nature. The latter make up the vast majority of this debut LP, so while first impressions are marked by clear, accessible highlights, repeated listens require a bit more time to draw out the album’s best qualities. For example, it wasn’t until the fifth or sixth time around that I realized just how heartbreaking the lyrics to ‘Milk’ actually are – a tale of depression and unrequited love: “How long til you see the sky’s not falling on you…you say the storm rages on behind your eyelids / I'm trying not to tell you what I've felt, I could have sworn I saw almost every colour as the light tracks through raindrops in your hair.” Another thing that took some time to unravel are what I’ll call onion melodies – these songs that seemed unremarkable upon initial inspection but became absolute earworms after a few repetitions of peeling away the layers: tracks like ‘Floating in a Vacuum’, ‘10,000 Violins’, and ‘Milk’, all of which underwhelm at first but have undeniable character that eventually ends up outweighing the more immediate singles. There’s plenty of depth to this album; another sign that Plastic Mermaids transcend your average psych/indie/synth outfit.
Suddenly Everyone Explodes
isn’t an album without flaws – namely the uninspiring duo of ‘Ooh’ and ‘Taxonomy’ which bloats and drags out the record’s latter portion – but it’s one that shows exceptional promise for one of the odder and more individualistic bands out there right now. It’s a record with an array of styles in its arsenal, and one would imagine that Plastic Mermaids will continue to hone in on the approaches that worked best for them here. Even if they’re not quite as fun
as MGMT yet – or as intriguingly mesmerizing
as The Flaming Lips at their peak – even inspiring such comparisons should be telling about where this new band already stands. The future’s bright for this psychedelic quintet, and their present blend of accessibility and layered detail is quite intoxicating.