Album Review: Muzz – Muzz

The ‘supergroup’ moniker conjures a vast spectrum stretching from the cringey banality of 2010’s ‘McBusted’ revival, or the spectacular 60’s rock wet dream of ‘The Dirty Mac’. Contrary to the “pish” usually issued at the word, the debut album of Interpol’s Paul Banks alongside Bonny Light Horseman’s Josh Kaufman and The Walkmen’s Matt Barrick, shuns all supergroup clichés. Instead, this is a sophisticated and streamlined album.

The sophistication is audible not only in the album’s instrumentation or vocals, but also their production, which exudes a vinyl-esque warmth. This could be attributed to the reasoning behind their name, being the band’s personal way to describe the project’s warm, analogue feel. It was undoubtedly their aim to create an unplaceable, vintage influenced work, clear from its amazingly fuzzy finish. This beautiful sheen was also perhaps due to “Muzz” Matt Barrick, and prolific workhorse producer Matt Barrick (with The National, The War on Drugs amongst his credits).

Doubly sophisticated is the use of horns throughout, which burrow deep into the psyche each time. On “How Many Days” a flurry of horns greets the listener in its conclusion, married perfectly with Banks’ strained vocals. Here too is Barrick’s superb jazz beat-drum showcase.   

Cathartic moments abound, especially on “Evergreen”, where the beautiful slide guitar bolsters the vocals above a rhythmic bassline.

Although the lyrics have Interpol-ly whiffs (certainly no complaint) there are notable lyrical injections from Kaufman and Barrick; Paul Banks’ first time sharing the lyric-brewing process succeeds tenfold. There is also a fragile beauty to lyrics throughout “Muzz”, many have a quality of poetry transposed to lyrics, like the haunting “I watch you sleep, heavenly…” outro on “Broken Tambourine”.

The blistering guitars of Interpol’s Paul Banks are still present (evocative of their 2002 debut), but guitarist Josh Kaufman enhances these driving chords. The guitarist’s expansive and emotive arpeggiated sections are an immensely satisfying riposte to Banks’ rhythm guitar. “Patchouli” is a magnificent example of this, with the plaintive vocals mixing fluidly with the sweet arpeggios.

Barrick’s drumming has its own consciousness, sparse and primitive at times (allowing the other instrumentation to shine) while elsewhere dynamic, in the perfect places. Banks says of his style: “…he does things on the drums that are so tasteful and subtle it gives me the warm fuzzies.” The love of collaboration is a thread throughout the album; with Banks explaining that such an “organic artistic chemistry together” comes from “partly a shared musical taste from youth, as with me and Josh, but then it’s also the souls of my friends that resonate with me when expressed through music.”

Paced incredibly, “Broken Tambourine” is the album’s heart. The longest track, it strolls along meditatively, with soothing na-na-na-na layered vocals. At its halfway mark, it is where the record’s pace plateaus steadily, before plummeting into the blistering drums of “Knuckleduster”.

The album is book-ended effectively by “Bad Feelings” and “Trinidad”, as two short and achingly mournful slow burners. “Bad Feelings” eases the listener into the album’s yearning tone with the simple but brilliant “so long, Bad Feelings” while “Trinidad” (recently given an acoustically rendered quarantine version) is even more yearning with the startlingly poetic “shaky ocean confined to a hemisphere”.

Although adverse to making thematic or conceptual records, as being “very limiting”, Banks concedes that “Muzz” embodies “meditations on mental health, and the quest for happiness and the way in which the mind can play tricks on us.” This is done with wondrous subtlety to its success, underscored by a contemplative and brooding menace, rather than swallowed by it.

The almost tidal sensations of the sounds of “Muzz” are perhaps best described by Banks himself: “…it’s cosmic.”

Out June 5th via Matador Records. Check out “Knuckleduster”, their most recent single.

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