- Melding of pop and art-rock
While many of you may be familiar with Rhys Marsh, Mandala may be more of an enigma despite the fact that it reaches back much further than Rhys’ solo career as an art-rock singer/songwriter. In the historical sense, Mandala is certainly an interesting offering; it’s an album that was essentially written by Rhys, Francis Booth, and Will Spurling in their high school years as they grooved and made homage to pre-80’s rock music with their own albums. After years of not playing together, these guys basically decided to get back together and record the album of their youth.
And a youthful album it is. Not surprisingly, you can hear many musical characteristics which are very expected of rockers at the age that they wrote Mandala. “Wind that Blows” offers straightforward rock, based around a few simple riffs. “I Have Fallen” features very conventional pop-rock with a bit of twang, and “Ghizou” plays on light eastern melodies in an old school psych kind of way. These few tracks seem to really wear their influences on their sleeves and for my tastes ended up being a bit too straightforward and predictable.
However, despite the fact that a few of the compositions that when they had written the material they were still developing composers, most of the tracks on Mandala clearly display the high caliber songwriting we’ve come to expect from these guys, even at such a young age. “The Dark Waltz” caught my attention with a magnificent chorus featuring the rise and fall of violins and cello. The atmosphere that the strings add throughout is fantastic and the track shows itself to be a great melding of pop and art rock. The combo of the title track “Midnight Twighlight” and “Sun” takes us on a nostalgic dive into the early rock experimentation and fascination with eastern themes. The sitar is the featured instrument here as the band creates an atmosphere that is deliciously dark. The combo of sitar and acoustic guitar strumming under whispered vocals are menacing, and the pounding bass, wah-wah guitar, and eastern melodies on strings are fierce and dramatic. Just as the name implies, “Dreaming” has a very dreamy feel. It’s a bit of a sympho-pop ballad, featuring a lot of swaying, reverby strings that really lay down a calming atmosphere. What really clinched it for me was the instrumental section after the singing where the strings really took it into even in the end. Lastly I’d like to mention “Fire is Mine,” a track that stands out for its groovy bassline and rhythms that provide a nice contrast to Rhys simple vocal line. The chorus is absolutely fantastic in the way it blends lush strings with punchy guitar, bass, and drums.
In the end, whether or not to attribute these great songs to the musicians’ mad skillz in their youth or to the fact that they are recording this now when they are mature artists is not really relevant. Simply put, Mandala has created a bunch of solid songs that maintain the approachable-ness of pop-rock while delivering a strong level of artistic approach. Good to see Rhys going back to his old friends Francis and Will to produce some fine tunes.