This article was first published by The National Student on 5th June 2017
There must be a German word which expresses the feeling of listening to Connect The Dots, the sophomore album from New York-based, indie quintet MisterWives.
Unfortunately the rough translation would need to be something like “the sick feeling of disappointment when you realise you’ve either grown out of sparkly, colourful instrumentation and imagery laden lyrics, or this band was always an Imagine Dragons-esque embarrassment waiting to happen”. Place your bets on the latter.
It’s hard to recall a recent album where the frequent self-promoting cries for ‘individuality’ and vague ‘weirdness’ in music, have at once felt so sincere, yet so flimsy and disingenuous.
How this album has a song called ‘Out Of Tune Piano’, which neither uses an out of tune piano, nor places any piano playing particularly prominently in the mix, I’ll never know nor care to understand.
It’s the seventh track on the album, yet it feels like the 1000th which lead singer Mandy Lee has directed to an unidentified object person, demanding (on a spritely chorus) that they “Love yourself my dear, la la la/Love yourself my dear/Do I make myself clear?”. Yet there’s little to no specificity here, so what little imagery and metaphor falls flat, and comes off as platitudinous.
What’s worse, it doesn’t distinguish itself strongly from the other songs with the same topic on the same album, never mind the rest of 2017’s pop music repertoire.
The only new trick that the following track [Coloring Outside The Lines] brings is to combine the ‘individual and proud’ stance with the almost sickeningly happy, loved-up-ness of [earlier song] ‘Drummer Boy’. That’s not as impressive a trick as the chorus’ lyric “Open my eyes/Saturated sunrise/Doesn’t seem as bright/When we’re colouring outside the lines”, which exhibits a fundamental, wilful misunderstanding of saturation.
Speaking of ‘Drummer Boy’, even worse are the Genius.com annotations which seem determined to make it a deeper song about a dead partner, when the most miniscule hints of that in the lyrics are exactly that – miniscule.
So, the lyrics are vague and poorly juxtaposed clichés; however, the band’s previously shown affinity for an expressionist form of music, involving throwing any available instrumentation at the carefully arranged structures, and seeing what sticks, that’s still fun right? Perhaps not…
The album is wildly over-instrumented, every inch of the mix beefed up with different melodies, seemingly at random, and it ultimately lends itself poorly to creating memorable pop moments.
When they’re not overloading the mix, they’re creating jarring tonal shifts by choosing blatantly wrong instruments. Why open ‘Machine’ with summery tropical percussion when the rest of the song goes far brassier and bassier with its tone? Who on earth
thought any part, least of all the falsely affected dark and edgy distorted synths, of ‘Revolution’ was a good idea? The tonal jar between the first verse, pre-chorus, and chorus is full of agonised screams – it’s a truly awful, stupid and sudden shift from something brooding and ugly, into something hopeful and ugly.
For all the defiant shouts about individuality, and “Colouring outside the lines”, ‘Connect The Dots’ is almost depressingly disappointing in how it seems to have been calculated at every point. The melodies aren’t bad, and the song construction is solid throughout – even though it’s head-bangingly dull that the best parts of every song come at the post-chorus – whilst the band do, thanks to Mandy Lee’s undeniably excellent vocal work, come across exactly as sincere as they want to. But the sloppiness of the arrangements and lyrics hampers the entire album, and doesn’t do anything to show that this band is as unique as they want everyone to believe.