Saturday, December 14, 2019

Albums of the Year # 12 The Mystery Lights - Too Much Tension

From May:

Too Much Tension! is right. The Mystery Lights, once of Salinas, California but now of New York certainly know what they like. They like the original mid-Sixties American Garage Rock scene. The Standells, 13th Floor Elevators, The Seeds, Love, Chocolate Watch Band and their ilk. They also honour what came after, ultimately Seventies New York Punk, Television, Dead Boys, Stooges, The Cramps and their ghoulish brethren. In Mystery Lights world it's always closing in on midnight and the cadillac is always just about to putter out of the graveyard.

So far, so familiar. But what do they choose to do with this golden legacy. How can something which has been reheated so often over the last fifty years have anything else to offer? As it happens, plenty. Too Much Tension! (what Americans would call the band's sophomore effort), is surely the best punk retread you'll hear, not just this year but in many a year. If Mystery Lights add not one single new ingredient to the potion, they contrive to make it all sound every bit as good as the original classic records that are their lifeblood. Because the tension they draw on is still existent and in 2019 beginning to curdle into an all consuming dread.

The songs here are thrillingly wired. Sure, plenty of bands have tried for the same prize over the last twenty years but precious few have done so with such elan. Mystery Lights know that they must keep their shades on at all times and keep their delivery taut and their tunes stretched to the max. Fortunately for the listener they've learned their lines and aren't about to lose the plot.

The album is full of sonic effects that underline and thicken the band's design and impact. You can hear cauldrons boiling, chains rattling, the pitched screetch of approaching sirens, the church bells chime. If this comes across as hammy then that's exactly how its intended . The Mystery Lights pitch their Rock and Roll tent between those of the Elevators, Television and The Cramps and while never remotely original like all three of these bands were, that doesn't mean there's not plenty of fun to be had while the ride lasts.

In order to pull off the trick they're attempting here, you really have to do your homework. Worm your way into the heart of the beast you are wishing to inhabit and really claim ownership. Mystery Lights do just that here. They truly wear Sixties and Seventies skin. Vocalist Mick Brandon leads from the front. A chilled composite of Roky, Iggy and Stiv, he understands intimately the pitched desperation that stokes the flames of this particular fire.

The band are coming to a small venue in my home town in Autumn and I'll be there, because judging by the evidence Too Much Tension! proffers they should be a wonderful live proposition. Generally I don't mind a band whose inspirations are as blatantly apparent as this so long as they take it somewhere new. In Mystery Lights case I'll make an exception. They cross the 't''s and dot the 'i's  here with such brazen panache that I can't but doff my cap to them. Excellent.

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