New Zealand’s dream pop maestros Mild Orange have been casting light into the shadows of the past two years with a steady supply of pulsating, glossy and shimmering singles. ‘Looking For Space’ is the ultimate result: a collection of mesmerising and intoxicating tracks that confirm Mild Orange’s glorious contribution to the global stage.
When we chatted to singer, guitarist and songwriter Josh Mehrtens last week (see interview here), he recounted the challenges faced both personally and by the band as ill health and COVID restictions wrapped their collective icy tentacles around the band, but that the album, for all the twists and turns and its melancholic edge, was about hope and optimism. The album clearly means a lot to the band: it is something Mehrtens hopes will be an endless source of discovery and comfort for listeners. And in an era of isolation, for a band that thrives on travel and experience, the album represents the potential – the next steps – a cinematic vision extending beyond the confines and physical barriers created by the age of COVID.
From the opening reflective percussive shuffle of ‘Colourise’ we can see a band that paints a broad open sonic landscape: a palette filled with glorious, glittering colours. Mehrtens voice is ethereal and angelic as it launches high into the atmosphere with dappling curtains of guitar framing the scene. The bass wanders through a complex pattern that provides a steady undercurrent. The result is something quite mesmerising and dreamy.
‘F.E.A.R.’ lyrically captures the inherent optimism in Mehrtens’s vision: a powerful show of reliance and endurance. It is a muted and reflective track that in a sense sets the scene for the themes of the album.
‘Time Of Our Lives’ is blinding and reassuring. The glitchy syncopated percussion trickles under a hazy array of guitars and the melancholic vocals that float over the surface reflect the nostalgic themes. The track was inspired by singer Josh Mehrtens memories of skateboarding throughout Japan:
‘The Time Of Our Lives’ was born out of wanderlust and nostalgia for a time I had skateboarding through Japan on my own, making friends and learning little life lessons along the way. I was Looking For Space, and writing this song took me back to a time in my life when I truly felt the world was my oyster. The recording sees us naturally revisit and modernise an 80’s pop band aesthetic. I felt like screaming towards the end, just ’cause it felt good and I can’t wait to shout at the top of my lungs when we play this live.
This is a track that would have fitted right into the ‘Lost In Translation’ soundtrack.
Floating over dappling guitars that pluck and ripple underneath, the soft yearning vocals in ‘This Kinda Day’ are immersive and melancholy, filled with a deep sense of loss. ‘This Kinda Day’ shimmers like a mirage: ethereal, enigmatic, immersive and full of hope. Psychedelia and dream pop merge in the most euphoric way.
Despite the melancholy air, there is positivity in the message. Coming from a very personal experience, frontman Josh Mehrtens says of the track:
I was recovering from pneumonia and pleurisy back in October 2020, which nearly wiped me out and left me sick for about six months. With sickness came a period where I experienced an inability to do what I love, and it meant we had to cancel some of our biggest shows to date and some important radio and TV appearances. The disappointment in myself, and letting down others (the band, fans, people involved) weighed heavy on me and sent me downward. But it turned out that my friends, family, and fans were all super supportive and gave me strength. To me, this song represents a lot of growth in perspective, and I’d love to share that appreciation with others in hopes that it might help some not go down a dark path alone.
The lyrics are gentle and optimistic:
It’s not like you’re always like this
Remember how it felt moving forward
But for now – this moment too
Will all make sense someday
‘Oh Yeah’ has a quiet, reflective and smooth flow with sinuous guitars weaving in and out of the laid back vocals. This is another ethereal piece – a subtle retreat from a crowded shoegaze fuzz into something more widescreen and open with the crystalline guitars creating a complex dance and a spoken piece with a distorted megaphone blur provides a dreamy diversion. This is a track that evokes a languid late afternoon bucolic drift in the fading sun.
Frontman Josh Mehrtens says of the track:
I wrote the lyrics to ‘Oh Yeah’ to be intentionally about nothing – but within nothing there is always something. In an art history paper I did at uni, there was a quote I came across, and sadly, I’m not sure who from but it went something like: “with art, there is always meaning”. This got glossed over in the lecture but it’s stuck with me for years now. Even the decision not to have meaning has a meaning. I love this irony and found it comical that you can’t escape meaning, so I wanted to write lyrics about nothing, which meant little to me at the time except just to purely feel good. That ‘something’ can become clearer once you look back on the seemingly nothingness you tried to evoke.
It was upon reflecting on the song that I realized these words had come from somewhere and could take on some kind of meaning, which is what the spoken word outro is about. I recorded/wrote that outro section improvisationally in one go a couple of months after the initial recording of the song. We wrote and recorded ‘Oh Yeah’ in Carters Beach, on the rugged West Coast of New Zealand at a beach house only separated from the ocean by a paddock with horses roaming in it. It was very laid back and surfy there, which is how the song sounds. We all recorded our parts very laid back and unassumed of what it would become. What does the chorus “oh yeah ah ah ah yeah uh” even mean? No idea, but it feels good to sing.
‘What’s Your Fire?’ is a scintillating and coasting track with sparkling guitar embellishments that adorn the ringing melodies and anthemic chorus. Distant droning synths create a luscious coating to the canvas with yearning vocals casting rays of light. This is glorious, expansive music that dances and chimes. Singer Josh Mehrtens says:
For me, ‘What’s Your Fire?’ came from a time in my life where I was trying to figure out who I am, or who the person I want to be is. It asks oneself some intense questions, though hopefully helps oneself find light in the idea that there is always something that you can do to improve yourself or the world around you – no matter how big or small.
The lyrics reveal a certain optimism and positivity in the face of the human condition:
Pick up your halo
You’re doing fine
Still beauty to find
‘Take A Moment’ is a forty second shimmer of ambience leading into the shimmering ‘Aurora’ with almost falsetto vocals and a reverberated reverse tracked sonics.
‘Hollywood Dreams’ continues with the delightful layered musical flourishes that Mild Orange do so superbly, with a little more restraint. Mehrtens’s vocals have a barbed wire core cloaked in velvet feel – urgent and yearning – as the instrumentation glistens like water droplets on a leaf in the sunshine.
‘Music’ sums up up the band’s ethos:
You know where the music plays You better get there, eh? You've come this far Steadfast With you head in the game But don't let the music stop Or you'll go insane
This is surely an anthem for our times – delivered in a laid back dreamy flow that is almost – almost I stress – bluesy.
Final track ‘Photographics’ with its distant disconnected vocals reflects why this band has been labeled shoegaze (something that bemuses Mehrtens). The steady layered guitars and percussion float over the reverberated, delayed vocals that tumble and roll in the ether. It is a statuesque finale.
‘Looking For Space’ is an immersive and enthralling experience: sparkling with layers of sound and light while imbued with a deep sense of positivity despite its dreamy air of bittersweet melancholy.