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Mock Orange: Mind Is Not BrainMind Is Not Brain (2004)
Reviewer Rating: 5
Contributed by: greg0rbgreg0rb
(others by this writer | submit your own)
Mock Orange found me at just the right time. In 1998, I was a junior in high school who listened to the typical skate punk. My favorite band was Lagwagon, and my search for new bands ended at the Fat Wreck and Punk-O-Rama compilations. Yuck it up, I don’t mind. But then, I was introduced to a band called Mock Orange by a friend. He had a copied cassette of something called the “Green Album” (no not Weezer). The rumor he had heard was that Shawn, ex-guitarist of Lagwagon was in the band. The sound of the music was enough within my tastes for me to love it at first listen, but it also had something more I had not been exposed to. (These days I am certain that no one from Lagwagon was ever in the band, and although I have heard that there was such a “Green Album”, it has been hidden from public knowledge by the band. It was probably self-released, so it has most likely been out of print for a long time.)
Soon afterwards I picked up the only Mock Orange record I could find at the local indie record store, Nines and Sixes, and it was not long before it gained the title of one of my favorite albums, remaining there to this day. The album actually does still have a bit of that Lagwagon riffage and speed, with a double time beat even appearing. But it also had the indie rock flair- start and stop rhythms, seventh-chords, dynamic shifts. It opened my mind to bands like Braid. Yes, I knew about Mock Orange before them… continue to yuck it up on my behalf. The point is, Mock Orange got me there.
In 2000, The Record Play came out and I was at first disappointed by the lower level of distortion and volume and the slower speeds. In time I digested it, and as my musical tastes had broadened because of their last record, I grew to love it as well. This again pushed the boundaries of what I could like-before everything had to be fast and loud- Nines and Sixes still fit into that, this album didn’t. I eventually began to open up to albums like Jimmy Eat World’s Clarity, and over time other mellower acts like Death Cab for Cutie and Pedro the Lion. Indirectly, my musical tastes also began to expand in other directions as well, to encompass all kinds of underground rock like Cap’n Jazz, At the Drive-In and Refused.
In 2002, First EP showed more growth, growth I later came to believe as the band finding their true sound. Their last two albums were amazing, but these five tracks seemed to be something truly different, something that really seemed to fit. A hint of alt/country along the lines of Wilco, remnants of perhaps a bluegrass influence, southern rock lead guitars ala Lynyrd Skynyrd, along with the groove of Modest Mouse. My musical tastes grew to include the later as one of my favorites, as well as now countless other acts. I believe myself to have a truly open mind to music these days. Now it would be a bit much to say that it is all thanks to Mock Orange, but it just seems that they have grown right along with me and I have really connected with them on every release.
Now onto the present: Mind is Not Brain. Truth be told, it is not really the present. Due to difficulties with intended label Dead Droid, this album is coming out a year and a half after it was recorded, which was January of 2003. That aside, this is a great album. Of all their albums, it is the least instantly noticeable in it’s stylistic changes, for this one is more of an evolution of the sound on First EP, and an expansion of its sonic possibilities. For one, they have their first acoustic-based tunes, “East Side Story”, “My God”, and “I Can’t Seem to Think”. There had been some acoustic overdubs on the EP, but this is a true expansion of their sound, taking the volume down a notch, letting their songwriting shine through, and also giving diversity to the album. “East Side Story” also shows other growth, introducing electronics for the first time in a Mock Orange song by way of echoing synth tones and a laid-back drum machine beat, which mix in great with the guitar, banjo and strings; consequentially this is one of my favorites on the disc. The list of “instruments new to a Mock Orange song” could also include vibraphone (“This Nation”) and piano (“Hawks Can Go”). One more sonic growth would be the expanded use of musical noise. The album starts with extensive squeals and feedback, and ends similarly. In between, tracks like “Do You Want Out” uses noise underneath vocals, in this case shouts of “You want out of it / you want out” over booming drums, some kind of additional metallic percussion and guitar squeals, a great end to a great track.
Another form of growth would be Ryan Grisham’s vocals. He has found a unique voice, which was in development back on the EP. There is still plenty of falsetto which has gotten stronger, and his lyrics, full of self-questioning and worldly questioning, are the most interesting he has yet produced (guitarist Joe Asher may also write some of the lyrics, I’m not certain). Yet it still remains fun and at times even funny, like in “I Keep Saying So Long” he sings “I think I’d like to live in a hole / Where I could sing mo mama mo / And nobody laughs cause nobody knows” and poking fun in “This Nation” he sings “Everybody’s got to have macho rock and roll / Who’s calling out the songs you smash your face to / We don’t need them any more”. But the most fun song on the album would have to be the opener “Payroll” with it’s noisy intro, Japanese-sounding guitar melody over Modest Mouse-style stomping drums and bass, and a catchy-as-hell chorus with one of the best melodies Grisham has ever laid down linked with a great fuzzy guitar lead. Grisham’s melodies throughout are as good as ever, and often pack quite a range, making them very original and never cliché.
There is not a track of filler on this album, but other standout tracks would be the title track, which has some of the best dual-guitar riffage the band has produced since Nines, but staying within their current style. Another nice surprise is the musical segue, unlisted on the sleeve, a airy instrumental with organ type sounds and reverb soaked guitars playing another Japanese-sounding melody, leading into “My God”. If you put the CD in your computer, you can access some additional material including a music video for “Segue.” It’s an odd choice for a music video as it is only a minute and a half, it has no vocals, and it really does not represent the album as a whole. That all contributes to making it seem more like an eery film score- a film containing disturbing images of a child chained at the ankle, alternating with funny yet freaky images of people in bear costumes doing various things like chin-ups and petting a cat. Also included are six more songs, demo versions of something they call on their website “the lost mini-record by the enigmatic return of the hawks.” I have no idea what that means, but the songs are good (“80’s Song” has hilarious lyrics), despite lacking full instrumentation in most of them. More songs for your buck!
Mind is Not Brain showcases a hard-working band finding their strong suits and creating an all-around great album. Joe Asher has said in an interview that the band has material for two more LPs already but for now enjoy this album, now that we finally have it. I highly recommend it, whether you connect as much with the band as me or you are a new listener.
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